Shaun White is at the top of the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team. Justin Reiter is at the bottom. Shaun White is filet mignon. Justin Reiter is Big Mac. Shaun White is The Ritz. Justin Reiter is the Holiday Inn.
Such is life as the only snowboarder on the U.S. Olympic team competing in the lesser-known snowboarding disciplines called parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom, otherwise known as alpine snowboarding.
Justin Reiter, 33, is definitely someone to root for, an outcast who seemingly has everything going against him, starting with the fact that the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) does not fund alpine snowboarding.
While White was making a reported $3 million in endorsement deals last year, Reiter was living out of his truck in Park City, Utah, and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for the five-month offseason to save money last summer.
As part of his going for gold in Sochi, Reiter also put out a fundraising cry for help on RallyMe, asking for $10,000 to help cover World Cup travel and coaching expenses at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Fortunately—and he profusely thanks those who helped—he raised $10,256.
Part of that money is being used for travel to Sochi. The U.S. Olympic Committee covers his transportation and some other costs, but because the Olympic schedule conflicted with the World Cup finals, Reiter told GrindTV that he was forced to pay out of pocket for a majority of the trip.
For U.S. alpine snowboarding athletes, everything comes out of their own pockets over the course of a season.
Without USSA supporting an elite alpine snowboarding team, Reiter told GrindTV Outdoor in an email, "riders are each individually responsible not only to fund their entire season on their own but to also find their own coaching staff, equipment techs, and medical assistance while on the road. It makes it a very difficult road to travel while competing against the best in the world who have a huge advantage by being fully supported with coaches, staff, doctors, physical therapist, techs, video staff, and even trainers/masseuses."
Consequently, Reiter said he feels like David taking on Goliath, but he harbors no resentment, is grateful for the opportunity, and thankful that his strong finishes last year earned some support from the USSA, though not enough to cover his entire season's cost.
"This is a choice that I have made," Reiter told GrindTV. "My mantra and words of support are, 'Find what you love and do it no matter the cost.' When things are difficult and money is tight, I have to remember those words and that accomplishment without challenge is not really an accomplishment.
"I am enjoying doing this on my own and am so very thankful for the support I do receive from my sponsors and my community of friends, fans, and family. Standing alone makes the hard days really hard but the bright days even brighter."
The darker days no doubt include previous failures to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 2006 (missed by one qualifying spot) and 2010 (injured kneecap). Reiter, who supported his alpine snowboarding career with previous jobs working as a pizza cook, golf club sales manager, and Home Depot store assistant, retired from the sport for two years but returned in 2013 because of "unfinished business."
"It was the perfect catalyst for me to return," Reiter told USSA. "I took a different approach. Said [I was] not doing this for results—I'm doing this because I love to do it. That's what it's about. And since that time, that's been my main focus."
It must be working. On Saturday in Sudelfeld, Germany, Reiter took third place at the last FIS snowboarding parallel giant slalom World Cup event before Sochi (see his run in the video below). He was also a silver medalist at the 2013 World Championships in parallel slalom, so he's no slouch.
"There's so much pressure about going to the Olympics," he told USSA. "Now I'm really excited to have the opportunity just to enjoy the ride. It's been a long time coming. But that's kind of how everything in my life has been. It's always been kind of a drive. It's never been easy."
Reiter's 20-year Olympic dream finally pays off February 19 and 22, when the parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom are contested in Sochi. Certainly a gold medal would make his story complete.
More Winter Olympics stories on GrindTV