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Up Close With Julia Mancuso

December 30, 2009
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Julia Mancuso began skiing at the tender age of three and has never looked back. By age 7, the Lake Tahoe native was racing and setting her sights on the Olympics. She first competed at age 17, set a U.S. mark for Junior World Championships medals while still in her teens, and captured two World Championships medals in her early 20s. In 2006, Mancuso won her first gold Olympic medal in the giant slalom and is collecting accolades at a quick pace. Now the 25-year-old is ready for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, hoping to capture her second gold medal.

During her off-seasons, Mancuso is an athlete of all sorts. Residing in Maui, she loves to surf, paddleboard, kiteboard, bike, and camps when she can. She even climbed Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2008. Camping Life had an opportunity to talk with Mancuso about the Olympics, her connection with the outdoors and her love of camping.

CL: You’ve had a challenging 2009 winter due to a nagging back and adjustments to new equipment. How do you feel right now, mentally and physically?

JM: I feel physically fit and strong, and don’t feel pain anymore. I haven’t really felt this well in a long time, so I’m quite excited to hit the races and just charge as best I can. The equipment is more dialed in than in previous years as well. During our summer training camps in New Zealand and Chile, the testing and tweaking continued. We’ve made great progress, and I like how it’s come together.

CL: The Olympics is such a major event, how do you mentally prepare yourself?

JM: Ideally, you want to take momentum into the Games. If you’re struggling in your World Cup races, it can nag on your self-confidence, and that is, of course, not the attitude you want to go in with. So, keeping my head on straight, keeping disciplined with my body work and fitness, and continue to charge is all I?can control. I’ll leave what I can’t control to the universe.

CL: Other than skiing, what is your favorite sport and why?

JM: I love to surf. Being in the water, waiting for a set, the camaraderie, the anticipation of the right wave, the preparation, the positioning, the take-off, the wave-propelled ride … wow, it just makes me feel so alive. Ever since my mom took my sisters and me on a surf trip to the Maldives, I was hooked. It’s just amazingly liberating.

CL: You climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2008. What was that experience like for you?

JM: Climbing Kili with my friends was surreal. Getting out there in the world to places that are so different from anywhere else, it’s just eye-opening. Our final ascent to the summit was by far the toughest part of the climb. We all struggled to put one step in front of the other. Just an awesome experience!

CL: You camped a lot as a kid with your parents and grandparents. Now as an adult, what do you enjoy most about camping?

JM: Much like surfing, it feels liberating to be out in nature, away from modern conveniences. It gives me a glimpse of the simple and uncluttered life that I don’t typically get to enjoy when I’m on the World Cup Tour. Ski racing is a very regimented affair, so getting away from that and just living the camping life as it comes, is the perfect antidote.

CL: When you’re not training and have free time, do you camp much?

JM: Yes, on Maui we have several amazing spots to camp. Throwing your gear, food and surfboards in the truck and heading out to the country away from civilization is a common thing. When you just want to get away from obligations, from the every day, from cell phone coverage, and just unplug, my friends and I go camping. One of my favorite times to camp is during a full-moon rise. Ever eat a well-cooked camp meal at night and watch the huge fireball of a moon come over the ocean’s horizon? WOOOOW! I highly recommend it.

CL: What are some of your fondest memories of camping?

JM: I once went camping on a beach here on Maui and was almost run over by a truck racing along the shore! Yeah, really! It was crazy. We were sleeping on an inflatable mattress on a remote beach, when we were suddenly awakened by a loud engine noise. We rolled out of the way just in the nick of time with our lives. The inflatable mattress didn’t fare as well. The lesson is? Be careful where you camp!
For more info on U.S. Ski Team member and Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso, including photos, videos and the full Olympic broadcast schedule, visit NBCOlympics.com or TeamUSA.org.

From Camping Life’s January/February 2010 issue.

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