Fearless Femme: Pro Freeskier Roz G

Canadian freeskier Roz G breaks down her journey to Sochi, exploring the training, the risks and the rewards of her sport.

Credit: Chip Kalback

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the world will bear witness to the first-ever half-pipe freeskiing event, called SuperPipe. Among the inaugural class of competitors, Canadian freeskier Rosalind Groenewoud, known to fans as Roz G, is one to watch.

At the 2012 Winter X Games, Roz G earned the highest score in women's Ski SuperPipe history—93.66 out of 100. Now her sights are set on Sochi, where she is determined to carve her name into the Olympic record books.

We caught up with the Target-sponsored skier between her classes at Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia, where she balances a double major in math and physics with her pursuit of Olympic Gold.

STACK: Obviously balance and stability are important training elements for you. Do you spend a lot of time in the weight room?

Roz G: Yeah, definitely. One of the best ways to stay injury free is to be as strong as possible. I think staying injury free is a magical combination between strength and smarts. Smart skiing means listening to your body, knowing when you're tired, knowing when the weather isn't good, or visibility isn't good, taking care of your body with nutrition, enough sleep, not too much partying. But the strongest and most careful people still get hurt.

But the strength aspect is something that's in your control. In all sports, obviously, the more gym work you do, the better you perform. But my big motivation for strength training is to stay safe.

STACK: I recently saw you performing a Squat on a physioball. (See for yourself in the above video at 2:35.) How long did that take to master?

Roz G: It's relatively easy to climb onto them and figure out your weight and balance. I would like to get even better at it. There are people who can jump onto them, then land and stick. I've actually never tried it, so that's something I'd like to try this summer.

STACK: Staying safe is a key component of your sport. What are the differences between in-season training and off-season training?

Roz G: In-season is more of a maintenance phase. I am not trying to gain any more strength; I'm just trying to not lose it. In-season training is higher intensity, lower volume. And one of the big focuses is to not get too sore or too tired, because that can also influence injuries. You don't perform your best when you're sore and your muscles are fatigued.

STACK: What scares you?

Roz G: I used to have a big fear of needles and injections. But I've been working really hard, I've put myself through exposure therapy to get over that. I can get a flu shot without crying now. So I'm pretty proud of myself.

STACK: Congratulations, that's great!

Roz G: Maybe not cry, but hyperventilate.

STACK: So no tattoos then, right?

Roz G: No, I have tattoos! They aren't injections! They don't go into your veins. I'm also scared of psychopaths. But, I guess who isn't?

STACK: Yeah, that's fair. I think a healthy fear of psychopaths is good.

STACK: It's obvious from that recent tweet that your mental game is a priority. How does getting your mind right help you compete?

Roz G: It's super important for any sport, but especially for fear-based sports. Pushing yourself, the adrenaline of competition—it's tiring. I always feel the need to recover from it when I'm home, but especially in the months that I'm not with the Canadian team. So I went to the wellness destination spa.

STACK: Did you just refer to freeskiing as a 'fear-based sport'?

Roz G: Yeah, I guess I did.

STACK: How do you overcome the fear?

Roz G: For me, it's all about being confident in my body. The more confident you are, the less chance you have for injuries. Your body changes—there are so many physiological responses that your body goes through: the leaned back, the hunched shoulders, the tensing. You're more likely to hurt yourself when you don't commit and you aren't confident. Strength training is one way to get over that. Another big fundamental, I just realized, is that I'd rather be skiing than not skiing. And if that involves injuries, then that's something I'm going to have to work through. But it's not a reason to not do it. Skiing is worth those risks.

STACK: You recently lost a close friend and teammate, Sarah Burke, to the sport. Is it painful to constantly field questions about Sarah, or do you find it therapeutic?

Roz G: I have definitely enjoyed sharing my Sarah stories, and how important she was to me. Sometimes it's been too much. For a few months last July I stopped doing any media about her passing because I realized I needed to grieve internally and privately. I had consistently been doing media since she passed away, and it hit me that I needed to shift it to a more internal process.

I am completely aware that my ski career will forever be connected to both her and her passing—I think of them as somewhat separate—and so I think, for a good chunk of my career, questions about her are going to come up. I am prepared for those questions. But, I needed to be done doing interviews solely about her, so that I could begin to grieve internally.

STACK: Absolutely, that makes complete sense. Just a week after Sarah's passing, you dominated the X Games. You won the gold, with the highest score in women's half-pipe history.

Roz G: It was such an outpouring of love. It was a bonding event for the entire industry. But there was such an outpouring of love for the female pipe skiers at that event. All of us were out there together. It was still a competition, but it completely lost any essence of rivalry. My parents talk about being at the bottom, and how all the parents were cheering for all of the girls, and what we were going through collectively. I let that love raise me up and help me fly. I came to the realization that the best way to honor Sarah was to ski my heart out as hard and aggressive as possible. Those two things made that run possible.

Roz G at the 2013 Winter X Games.
Credit: Chip Kalback

STACK: How are you going to make sure you go there and medal? What about your training will help you stand apart?

Roz G: I think from talking to other Olympic athletes, both those who have won and those who have blown it, the best feeling is to get to the top of your course or race or event and know that you've done absolutely everything that you can to be as prepared mentally, emotionally, physically, technically as possible. That you left no stone unturned as far as your preparation.  That's definitely my goal. Trying out all sorts of different kinds of training. Out of the box thinking, strange techniques.

STACK: Is there anything that we should expect from you? Are you working on any big tricks?

Roz G: Right now I'm definitely in the experimental phase in my training. Kinda seeing what's working. Last year at World Championships, I completed a 1080 for the first time. There aren't many girls who do them, and no girls do them consistently, or have ever done them consistently. So those could definitely be the biggest spins girls could be doing. I'd like to be one of those people.

STACK: You are a very stylish individual—you even refer to your look as "vampire-chic." Where did the red lipstick come from?

Roz G: It's sort of from [former WNBA player] Lisa Leslie. I love her quote, "I'm strong, I'm tough, I still wear my eyeliner." I just really love that idea—that strength and femininity aren't mutually exclusive. And especially in action sports, that are so male-dominated. A lot of women feel pressure to conform to that masculinity, even if it's not who they feel like they are on the inside. For me, that reminder that I can be a skier, be feminine, and I don't have to give up one to be good at the other.

And of course there are girls who are more tomboys and who don't like makeup. And that's obviously all good too. And I have a lot of friends like that. But just the reminder that whatever your approach to who you are as a woman is fine regardless of what sport you're in.

STACK: Over the course of your career, you've transitioned from just a regular skier to a fierce pipe competitor. How did you make that happen?

Roz G: It's a process. It didn't happen overnight. I've had the fortune of having some really great coaches who believed in me and pushed me. I also have extremely supportive parents. They've never been pushy. They didn't pressure me to be a skier, but when I told them my plan to be a top level pipe competitor, if I strayed in my actions from that, they'd always push me to be consistent with the dream. That's definitely been a big part of my success.

STACK: How do you want your legacy to be remembered?

Roz G: I think that being part of the inaugural group to compete at the Olympics in a sport is definitely a big responsibility. For me, to just have the legacy of being part of the group that went to the Olympics and hopefully does really well in the Olympics and gets to be a voice of the sport to the mainstream, but yet keep it consistent with the original culture of freeskiing as much as possible.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock