Kaitlyn Farrington

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Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, forced to retire early, not staying grounded

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Kaitlyn Farrington lost her Olympic gold medal. Two weeks passed, and it still hadn’t turned up. She was ready to ransack her home.

“My parents wanted to kill me, because I went through a moment of saying, ‘I have no idea where it is, mom and dad,'” said Farrington, who grew up in Idaho and then moved to Utah. “And they’re like, really Kaitlyn?”

Time was running out.

Farrington was scheduled to fly to New York earlier this month for a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association fundraiser, where several other Olympians from the past 50 years would display their medals.

The day before her flight, Farrington sat on a bed and felt something weird. She lifted the mattress and found her Sochi gold.

Farrington lists her place on Airbnb due to frequent travels and apparently stuffed her medal there (and locked the room) during a recent leave.

“It hides in drawers or wherever. It’s around. It’s out and about,” Farrington joked after arriving in New York. “My medal’s a little dinged up because I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Farrington was one of the surprises of the Sochi Winter Games. She arrived in Russia as the only member of the four-woman U.S. halfpipe team without a major victory.

Then she beat an Olympic field that included the past three gold medalists — Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Torah Bright.

Less than a year later, Farrington emotionally announced her retirement at age 25 due to a degenerative spine condition. She learned of her congenital cervical stenosis after a fall 2014 crash that left her unable to feel anything for two minutes.

Farrington was fortunate she had never done permanent damage. If she had known about the condition earlier in life, she may never have become a snowboarder.

In retiring from halfpipe, Farrington made a deal with her longtime doctor, U.S. snowboard team physician Tom Hackett.

“I just have to keep my feet on the ground,” Farrington said in her retirement interview published Jan. 19, 2015. “I still want to be a professional snowboarder, I just have to figure out what that means.”

Farrington worked it out to continue strapping on her board the last 19 months. It’s not the same one she rode in Sochi, though. Farrington is occupying her time coaching, riding and filming, traveling the world as a back-country snowboarder.

“I definitely don’t think about the Olympics as much because that’s not who I am anymore,” said Farrington, before cutting off her words and offering a correction. “Or, right now, I feel like [if I was] a [halfpipe] rider, I’d be thinking about going into the next Olympics. My full pace has changed in the past three years, and now I am a back-country rider. I used to be a halfpipe rider.”

She’s not performing flips, twists or frontside airs, but she’s far from grounded. Farrington summited Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America, in June.

She also trekked through Argentina and Chile during the South American winter, when she watched the Rio Olympics on TV and bawled during award ceremonies.

“Because I knew everything they were going through,” she said.

Farrington also has plans later this fall to work in Kazakhstan with a filmmaker who described himself as a splitboard mountaineer.

At some point in the last 19 months, Farrington said she re-fell in love with snowboarding, riding the way she first learned the sport. But then there are also these moments.

“I get a little jittery sometimes when I want to leave the ground,” said Farrington, who would risk paralysis with a fall, “but I always know better.”

When she was diagnosed two years ago, some doctors told her she could never snowboard again. Some today say they can’t believe she’s still snowboarding.

Hackett, who offered her that deal to snowboard without leaving her feet, is the one whose opinion matters most of all. Farrington sees him every six months for MRIs and has him on speed dial for more spontaneous communication.

“I’m like, so, can I go on this roller coaster?” Farrington will ask him. “He’s like, eh, not the best choice, Kaitlyn.”

Hackett urges Farrington to discuss a surgery that she said would lessen her risk should she be in any whiplash situation. The procedure would also be extensive enough to keep her from riding for at least one year.

Farrington avoids the conversation.

“It would really be the end of my snowboard career,” she said. “[The surgery] wouldn’t put me back in a halfpipe. [My back] feels fine. Why go under the knife if you don’t have to?”

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