Colorado snowboarder Meghan Tierney makes Olympics a year after breaking back
EAGLE — In the world of snowsports in 2018, navigating the Choose Your Own Adventure like path to the Olympics is often more difficult than the Olympics itself.
An athlete must take advantage of favorable circumstances and make the best of the unfavorable.
The timing must be right, and in many cases, the path has been set out over the course of an athlete’s entire life.
Meghan Tierney’s favorable circumstances began at birth, when she came into the world already having two older siblings to chase around.
“She was always around snowboarding,” her father, Chris Tierney Sr., recalls. “She had the bug at an early age from watching her sister compete … and then she really got into it with her brother, who was a pro slopestyle rider.”
Meghan Tierney would tag along with her brother, Chris, to the terrain parks of Breckenridge and Keystone, and he would inspire her to hit the largest jumps in the parks.
“She’s really lucky to have had him,” Tierney Sr. said. “He really pushed her as a little kid, so she’s never been afraid to send it off jumps.”
When she was in sixth grade, Meghan Tierney met Anita Jacobellis, mother of nine-time X Games gold medalist Lindsey Jacobellis, who saw a likeness to Lindsey in Meghan.
Anita became Meghan Tierney’s tutor and became especially fond of the young snowboarder.
“She was so much fun to work with, she made me laugh every day,” Anita Jacobellis said. “She’s a great kid, very wise and sophisticated in her thinking.”
The Tierneys moved to Eagle County in 2012 and enrolled Meghan Tierney in the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. She attended school there as a freshman and sophomore, working with Ben Boyd’s program at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
“He was a great coach to her, in regard to the mental aspect of things,” Chris Tierney Sr. said.
By her junior year, however, Meghan Tierney needed more. Boyd pointed Meghan Tierney in the direction of coach Ross Hindman with the International Snowboard Training Center. That’s where her career really started to take off.
“Ross Hindman changed the way she viewed the sport and what it meant to be a pro athlete,” Chris Tierney Sr. said. “He taught her to take everything seriously, your physical training and what you put in your body.”
BROKEN BACK RECOVERY
Meghan Tierney moved through the ranks, eventually earning World Cup starts and even an invite to X Games in Aspen.
And then her unfavorable circumstances began.
“I hate my cell phone because usually when it rings it’s one of my kids, and it’s usually never good,” Chris Tierney Sr. said. “I’m driving to my office in Avon, I see the phone light up, it’s Meghan, and she’s crying and in a lot of pain.”
While at a training camp in Austria in November 2016 Meghan Tierney crashed and broke her back on the L3 vertebrae. She was helivaced out of the venue and transported back to the U.S.
She was out all of December and January, but by the end of February she was back in the starting gate.
“Going into that season she was doing really well, she was strong, and then literally, the very first run of the season at training camp, she wrecked off of a jump and broke her back,” Chris Tierney Sr. said. “So as soon as she started feeling better, she started pushing herself … it was too soon.”
Meghan Tierney started the 2017-18 season with a string of 25th- to 31st-place finishes in the first four World Cup races. Her Olympic prospects were not looking good. A 19th-place finish at the second-to-last qualifier of the season, however, gave her some confidence, but as the fourth-finishing American in that race, she needed to bump her way up further.
Meghan Tierney went into the final Olympic qualifier ranked 26th. She ended up finishing seventh, the top-finishing American, earning herself a spot on the Olympic team.
“Having that slow start made her hungry, it made her work hard,” Chris Tierney Sr. said. “The timing ended up being perfect.”