Drifting down the slopes at the Sochi Olympic Games, Katie Tsuyuki snowboards as if she was born to do it.
Picking up the sport at sixteen-years-old, Tsuyuki began what would be a career that would take her around the world and to the height of the sport.
Since returning, she’s taken to visiting schools and speaking to classes about how they can follow their olympic dreams.
Tsuyuki came to Nikkei Voice’s offices to talk about inspiring younger generations to get into the Olympic spirit.
Nikkei Voice: You do talks with students, what are some of the questions they ask you about Sochi?
Katie Tsuyuki: As far as Sochi questions go it’s more about the food or what you got, but they ask more about what my challenges were when I was snowboarding or if I always knew I wanted to snowboard, also who inspires me those types of questions. It’s more snowboarding and sport career associated, and less about Sochi, but they do ask me if I was nervous.
NV: Were you a little nervous to be at the Sochi Olympic Games?
KT: No, I wasn’t nervous. It felt like I had earned to be there. When I talk to them I relate it to taking a test. If you study for a test, if you feel prepared and you’re not nervous it goes well, but when you don’t study and you’re unprepared that’s when you get nervous.
NV: Many students see Olympians as almost god-like athletes and maybe they even assume that they start training right from birth. You started snowboarding at 16, which is not late, but do kids ask you when they should start training?
KT: I tell them to follow their heart and their instincts, and of course there are a lot of people they can ask to get information about what they are interested in or what their passion may be. I do let them know for me specifically snowboarding was a unique situation in the sense that it was a very new sport and hadn’t been that difficult to develop. I had a chance to get my foot in the door and do it. There are definitely sports like gymnastics or swimming where if you’re not doing it a young age you probably don’t have a chance to go to the Olympics. Also considering that a lot of the ages that play those sports, especially gymnastics, are under the age of twenty a lot of the times. You really do want to start young for games like that.
NV: What’s one of the lesser known aspects of being an Olympian that you feel kids should know about? What’s a challenge they might not be able to visualize?
KT: I don’t find that being an Olympian is that challenging, although there is a lot of pressure if you’re going to go for another Olympic Games. In my case, I’m a little older and there are other things I want to do, but I have a teammate named Mercedes Nicoll she’s a three-time Olympian and did her first world cup at sixteen. Of course, it’s going to go that way and you’re going to go to many Olympic games when you start that young. I guess one of the challenges is trying to stay in your sport when you are a little older.
NV: How does being Japanese Canadian factor into your sports life?
KT: My whole family had a huge influence on me, but definitely my grandfather and a lot the Japanese culture itself. It’s kind of the worker mentality where you’re willing to work and put in the time to make things happen for yourself. That definitely comes out in my snowboarding. Also just the general respect for everybody. I try to take that with me when I meet people from other cultures like at the World Cup and things like that. I try to find out more about them and respect where they come from.
NV: When you were in Sochi did you end up working with any of the other Japanese Canadian athletes?
KT: I got to see Yuki before she crashed, which made it so I couldn’t talk to her too much. Atsuko, I sat on a bus ride with her and got to talk to her a little bit. On Twitter, there was this whole half-asian shout out and now I’m still getting people retweeting and answering me on this half-asian shout out on Twitter.
NV: Ever since Vancouver in 2010, social media and the Olympics has just exploded, so you have people tweeting images and interacting with you online. How do you find that?
KT: It was a handful actually. If there’s anything challenging it would have been the social media aspect and because you want to make your fans happy and you appreciate that they want to come and talk to you. You interact with them as much as possible, but at the same time your job at the Olympics is to compete and do your best. It’s a real balancing act between ‘how many messages do I answer’ and ‘how many tweets do I put out there’ that will be helpful and not harmful to my performance.
NV: But it’s great there’s so much support for Canadian athletes in the online and offline worlds.
KT: Canada’s really good at being patriotic, but not pushing it out there too much like other countries might be. It’s cool that Canada can get behind athletes with so much support, but it’s unfortunate it only happens every two years. If we could find a way to keep that love going because people love watching sports, so if could get them interested in those off seasons that would be awesome.
NV: Is there any advice you could give a young athlete looking to get into the Olympic spirit?
KT: Definitely try to contact an athlete who interests you. Most athletes are super nice and humble and love getting contacts from kids or fans. For me, I got a lot of emails and Facebook messages with people saying ‘Hey I’m doing my school project on you’, so I made a point of going and talking to them. We do have to inspire our youth to find their passions and hone in on them. As far as anyone who wants to get into the Olympic spirit, find that passion and follow it.
NV: You want to get them into the idea of supporting their country and learning what the Olympics is about?
KT: In general, the Olympics is about sport and it’s unfortunate how sport is going these days with no one ever winning and things like that. Sport teaches us life lessons you just won’t find in school like working with somebody you don’t necessarily like, sportsmanship, and be graceful in losing. That’s one of the great things Shaun White did and a lot of people didn’t look at, he lost gracefully. He didn’t step on the podium at all and he was such a gentlemen about it. That’s something kids need to learn as well. In my career, I’ve probably faced more failures than successes and anybody starting in business or school that will be the case most of the time. You’ll face challenges.