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[SPORTS] Toby Dawson - Korean american Freestyler Goes for Olympic Gold

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  • madchinaman
    The Ice Man Cometh Freestyle skier Toby Dawson is using dazzling acrobatics and extreme attitude to fight for an Olympic medal
    Message 1 of 1 , May 20, 2004
      The Ice Man Cometh
      Freestyle skier Toby Dawson is using dazzling acrobatics and extreme
      attitude to fight for an Olympic medal
      http://www.koreamjournal.com/CoverStory_pre.asp


      VAIL, COLO. — Somebody throw Toby Dawson a No Fear T-shirt.

      As a member of the United States Freestyle Ski Team, he spends his
      days cheating death by flinging his body into the air and performing
      360s and rotisserie-style spins — 30 feet above ground.

      But the 25-year-old is constantly challenging himself and pushing
      coaches to help him go bigger. Can he get more air? A little more
      rotation? Is it possible to defy velocity, gravity and wind speed
      all in one moment?

      In Toby's head, there is no room for second thoughts, and all of his
      senses tell him that he just might be able to bend physics to his
      favor. Apprehension and limitations exist in a far-off world that
      he's never heard of, and it's hard for him to admit he is only
      human, especially after what didn't happen in Salt Lake City two
      years ago.


      Toby Dawson's acrobatics, like this off-axis 720, has attracted the
      attention of filmmaker Warren Miller.
      It is this need for Olympic redemption that keeps his intensity high
      and his focus impenetrable.

      Toby is the answer to "What's cooler than being cool?"

      He is ice-cold.

      ***

      "I was right on the cusp," recalls Toby of the last winter
      Olympics. "I was basically the first alternate on that Olympic team."

      In January 2002, Toby had one last chance to qualify for a spot on
      the U.S. Olympic team. He needed to place in the top three, but he
      finished fifth.

      "It just crushes you," he says. "I felt that I deserved, or could be
      on that team and could do well at the Olympics. But at the same
      time, I'm so stubborn it gave me that much more motivation to go out
      and work harder and train more and prove myself next time."



      "What drives me the most crazy while competing is watching these
      people ski these conservative runs and doing well. For me, I want to
      put down a run that's breathtaking to the limit every single time,
      and I'd rather go all out and blow up than just put a run down that
      I know I can do every single time. I just want to step it up a level
      every time I get on snow and compete."

      Currently ranked eighth in the world, Toby competes in the moguls
      competition of freestyle, which means he must ski through a field of
      snow mounds, make a jump a third of the way down, ski through more
      moguls, hit another jump and then race to the finish line. Judges
      then score him on speed and technical execution of his turns and
      aerials.

      Traveling around the world with his team throughout the year, he has
      been preparing for the 2006 Olympics, which will take place in
      Torino, Italy. He has been down this road before, but this time he
      is spending twice as much time in the weight room, as well as in the
      air up there.

      "A lot of what I'm trying to do now is trying to innovate as much as
      I can and leave my mark within the sport. Recently, my signature
      move was a 360-degree rotation off a jump, doing a daffy iron cross.

      "A daffy is like where you kick your right leg in front and then
      you kick your left leg back so it's like a flip, almost, and then
      when you get 180, you twist your toes in and bend your knees up and
      you make a cross with your skis. Last season, I was known for the
      off-axis 720, which is basically a 720-degree rotation with the body
      lying parallel to the ground. Now I'm working on a variation of
      that."

      It might sound like such a move will only result in mangled limbs,
      but for Toby, pushing the status quo of freestyle skiing with such
      difficult tricks is what the sport is all about.

      "What drives me the most crazy while competing is watching these
      people ski these conservative runs and doing well," he says. "For
      me, I want to put down a run that's breathtaking to the limit every
      single time, and I'd rather go all out and blow up than just put a
      run down that I know I can do every single time. I just want to step
      it up a level every time I get on snow and compete."

      Toby only owns up to one bad accident as a result of hurtling
      himself through the air. Three years ago, he over jumped his landing
      and his elbow jammed into his side, rupturing his kidney. Even
      though he was in intensive care for five days and then in rehab for
      five months, the mishap didn't alter his intensity and dedication to
      his sport. Toby's technical coach, Liz McIntyre, is an everyday
      witness to this.

      "He's always wondering, you know, `How much bigger can I go? How
      much more room do I have? Can I jump bigger? Can I jump better?'"
      says Liz. "It's really nice. Everyone else, you're trying to
      tell, `You know, I think you can go a little bit bigger,' and he's
      already there."

      According to Liz, Toby has no real weakness, except for being too
      hard on himself. He is his own best coach and has established
      himself as a team member who sets the bar for others, then raises it
      again.

      "People are looking to see what he's doing," says Liz. "`How's Toby
      training? Which line is Toby skiing? Where's Toby landing the air?
      How's he turning through that section?' People definitely look at
      him as a role model."

      Liz, who has competed in three Olympics and earned a silver medal at
      the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, has no doubt that Toby
      possesses the right combination of talent and focus to make an
      appearance at Torino.

      "He's got a great sense in the air for mogul skiing," she says. "Not
      only do you have to ski the moguls, but you take two jumps, and
      that's a big part of mogul skiing now. It makes and breaks your run,
      depending on how your airs are. And he's someone who's super-
      innovative in the air and just has great air sense. He's very
      comfortable with it, and he seems to be fearless."

      ***

      Leave it to your mother to play you out. Turns out stone-cold Toby
      Dawson is also a bit bashful and somewhat of an introvert.

      "He was always very close to me, and he stayed in my arms forever,"
      recalls Deborah Dawson of Toby as a toddler. "People in town laugh
      now. Sometimes they'll see me and they'll say, `Well, where is he?'
      Because he was like an extra appendage. He never left my side for a
      full year.

      "He's always been very quiet, and sometimes you don't know what he's
      thinking because he's not real expressive most of the time. I
      remember telling him, `Toby, you don't need to talk to people, you
      just need to say hello and look them in the eye. That's all you need
      to do, and then you're off the hook.' Because it was so hard for him
      to talk to people and then to converse."

      While he seemed to keep his emotions in check, Toby's physical
      instincts often had him performing daring acts, even as a pre-
      schooler.

      "I walked down to the park one morning where the kids were playing,"
      says Deborah. "We had this huge wooden swing set, and he had
      shinnied up that somehow, and he was walking it like a balance beam.
      I couldn't say anything because I didn't want him to lose his
      balance. I was scared to death. But that's how he was. He never
      stopped. My mother used to say, `Doesn't he ever just walk
      somewhere?' If he saw something, he'd jump up on it. He was always
      just doing stunt kinds of things."


      Toby was adopted at the age of 3 by Deborah and Mike Dawson, two ski
      instructors from Vail. While the Dawsons knew nothing about Toby's
      biological parents, they recognized that their son had athletic
      ability that was waiting to be reaped.

      "At first, when he came, he couldn't even walk all the way into
      town," says Deborah. "He couldn't run. He hadn't had much physical
      stimulation. It took him a long time to gain his strength. [But]
      once he started, I mean, no matter what — we put him on ice skates,
      we put him on skis — he took to it right away and he just was so
      determined. You could see a talent right away. He just had a drive
      to go."

      Deborah remembers her first ski lesson with a 4-year-old Toby, who
      seemed to possess the genetics of his adoptive parents.

      "Never once did he cry, never once did he whine. He didn't want to
      go in. I had to force him to go in and eat some lunch. He loved it,
      and he just was a natural. We stayed out the entire day, and at the
      very end of the day, I was like, `You know Toby, we have to go home
      now because the lifts are closing!'"

      K.C., the Dawson's second adoptive son, arrived from Seoul in 1983,
      and he and Toby had a childhood filled with ski lessons and hockey
      games. Although younger in age, K.C. was more socially comfortable
      and often served as Toby's spokesperson.

      It was when Deborah and K.C. were out of town at a hockey tournament
      that Toby stumbled onto his current pastime. Wary of Toby's wild
      skiing and not wanting her 13-year-old to ski alone, Deborah had
      enrolled Toby in a freestyle skiing clinic that weekend.

      "I walked down to the park one morning where the kids were playing.
      We had this huge wooden swing set, and he had shinnied up that
      somehow, and he was walking it like a balance beam. I couldn't say
      anything because I didn't want him to lose his balance. I was scared
      to death. But that's how he was. He never stopped. My mother used to
      say, 'Doesn't he ever just walk somewhere?' If he saw something,
      he'd jump up on it. He was always just doing stunt kinds of things."

      Not only did he end up loving his two days of doing tricks on the
      trampoline and skiing moguls, but the experience opened him up
      enough to do something rare: talk.

      "I was in a hotel in Denver, and he called me," says
      Deborah. "Usually, it was just, `Hi, Mom. Yeah. Good. Bye.' [But] he
      never stopped talking. I think he talked for an hour. He went on and
      on and on and on about what fun he had and how great this program
      was. And then a freestyle team was started in town after that
      weekend, and he quit hockey and moved over to freestyle."

      Seeing her son competing now for the United States, Deborah couldn't
      be more excited.

      "I wish someday that he could find his parents because there is a
      talent there, and they should be so proud," she says. "I wish that
      somehow they could know what he's become and be able to see him."

      Supportive of Toby's decision to postpone college to pursue an
      Olympic medal, Deborah is elated with how the sport has helped groom
      her son.

      "It has given him so much," she says. "It has taught him to be open
      and talkative, and he does interviews, and he's meeting new people
      all the time. He's so poised now, and he's gracious. And it's so fun
      to hear him speak with people because he's very well-spoken. It has
      absolutely changed his life.

      "I often wonder what would have happened if he had been adopted into
      a family that went to the library on Saturdays," she says. "I think
      he must have had this yearning to break out."

      ***

      He just may be the only Asian American in competitive skiing, which
      means Toby is representing people that, while growing up, he had no
      real connection to. Vail was an all-white community when he was
      first adopted, and while his parents sent him and his brother to
      Korean heritage camps, he only wanted to concentrate on fitting in
      with his peers. Especially when he was faced with racial epithets
      and ignorant comments.

      "I really viewed myself as kind of this all-American kid. I guess
      the blinders were on when I looked in the mirror. I didn't want to
      think that I was Korean, and I didn't want anyone to tell me that I
      was different than my blue-eyed, blonde-haired buddy."

      It was his talent in sports that he admits helped him find a niche
      where he felt powerful and accepted.

      But now Toby says that the older he gets, the more comfortable he is
      in his skin. He recognizes that others may be looking to him to
      represent, and he has even taken the time to speak at a couple
      Korean heritage camps.

      This month, Toby looks forward to attending an invitational skiing
      event in Korea, where his name has become well-known among skiers.

      "For it to come full circle and have skiing bring me back to Korea
      is pretty exciting for me," he says.



      And like many things Korean, Toby is big in Japan. He actually has a
      ski camp set up in his name just outside of Nagano at which he
      teaches at once a year, as well as a fan club.

      "I remember a couple years ago, I was competing in Japan, and there
      were four guys. And they each had a white T-shirt on over their
      jackets; one had the letter T, one had the letter O, one had the
      letter B and one had the letter Y. They kind of got mixed up in the
      order, so they ended up spelling T-B-O-Y instead of T-O-B-Y," he
      recalls, laughing.

      Also teaching at camps in Canada and New Zealand, Toby is able to
      make enough money "to float" for now, and he is a fully funded
      member on the ski team. He also relies on endorsement money,
      although with an Asian face, he might not be the moneymaker ski
      sponsors want to go after.

      "I definitely have asked myself that sometimes," he says. "That is
      why I try to push the envelope, you know, push the sport as much as
      I can. To be someone that's a little bit more different, to be
      someone that's doing the most difficult tricks. That's where I can
      kind of gain ground on someone else."

      Acclaimed filmmaker Warren Miller got word of Toby's antics and
      asked the brazen freestyler to appear in four of his famous ski
      documentaries, an honor for any skier.

      Toby may showboat in the air and be known as a bad-ass on metal, but
      get him on the podium after a competition and you'll see past his
      pierced ears and tongue. You'll see the kid his mother was talking
      about.

      "I get kind of embarrassed standing up in front of everybody. I feel
      way more comfortable on the snow. I can show off and do all that
      stuff while I'm skiing, but then, yeah, put me in shoes and put me
      in front of a hundred people, and I get sheepish and shy and quiet."

      ***

      By the time 2006 rolls around, Toby will have been training on the
      national team for nearly eight years. If he makes the Olympic team,
      it will mean that he has finally reached the end of his marathon
      run. And then, the real race will begin.

      "That's like the biggest dream I can have, you know? To represent
      the country," says Toby. "It's really hard, and you can't look too
      far into the future. Right now, I say my goal is to make the Olympic
      team, but yeah, deep down in my heart, I want to go there to get a
      medal. Gold, silver and bronze — any medal will be good enough, and
      I'll be very excited with any of those, but I'm in pursuit of a gold
      medal."

      For now, Toby says that Torino will be his last competition. But,
      after having one goal for so long, how do you switch to a different
      one? And what keeps you from trying for the next Olympics after that
      one?

      "Those are the questions I still ask myself," admits Toby. "When do
      you call it enough? In competitions, I'm so demanding on myself that
      I realize I might want to keep skiing. But at the same time, I also
      want to get on with a regular life, a career and family. To have a
      so-called normal life is something that I look forward to a lot.
      Finishing up school, just being grounded in one area would be nice."

      Today, Toby enjoys a rare moment between competitions when he is not
      traveling, resting instead at his home in Vail.

      He is a little wistful as he contemplates his future, saying that
      after the Olympics, he may never put skis on again.

      "I have no idea what direction my life will take after I'm done
      skiing, but you know, eventually I'll get married and have kids or
      whatnot," he says. "I could definitely see myself taking them to a
      beach and teaching them how to surf or something like that, rather
      than taking them to the cold snow. I guess I'm just tired of being
      cold and shivering my whole life. I need to be able to soak up a
      little bit of sun."

      Right now, Toby isn't wearing ski gear and is content thinking about
      life beyond the slopes. But in 11 days, when he's suited up at the
      starting gate at the freestyle cup in Lake Placid, New York, he'll
      be listening to hip-hop or classical music (depending on his mood)
      to get into the zone. He'll forget he ever said words like "beach"
      or "surf." He'll envision five familiar interlocking rings, and that
      primal need to throw his soul into the air will surface.

      And ice will once again fill his veins.
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