I never took anything for granted. I was just so happy to go snowboarding. I want to make sure no one’s outworking me on or off the hill. I could play tennis with Roger Federer, and I suck at tennis, but I’m going to try to win.
Louie Vito, 27, is one of the most innovative and inspirational freestyle snowboarders on the scene. Vito’s accomplishments include a number of medals in several X Games, championships at Grand Prix competitions, and so much more. As is clear in this interview, the 2010 U.S. Olympic team member has a drive so powerful, he can barely contain it. Crediting his dad for his outlook and success every step of the way, Vito talks challenges, risks of specializing kids in sports too early, trusting his team, and more.
Innovation & Tech Today: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Louie Vito: It’s weird to consider it an obstacle, but it is what I’m most proud of. I was born and raised in Ohio. If you’ve never been to the Midwest, we’re not really known for huge Rocky Mountains. So, where I grew up, there was a 300 vertical foot hill, there was no half-pipe, and a really short season.
I&T Today: That’s a disadvantage for sure.
LV: There are people I know that who grew up with Lake Tahoe and Park City in their backyards. Since they first put on skis, there were on these amazing mountains. I, on the other hand, grew up riding Mad River Mountain. I loved it, but I think it’s one of the reasons I am where I am today. I never took anything for granted. I was just so happy to go snowboarding.
Injuries are always an obstacle that you have to overcome – especially your fist big one. For me, I cut my femur in half. And it was a test. I remember my dad saying, “Well, we’re going to see if Louie really does have a passion for snowboarding.” The recovery time was supposed to be six to nine months, but I was back making turns in a little over three months.
I&T Today: Oh man.
LV: Even though all I wanted to do was go snowboarding (I was 14 at the time), getting back on the snow was one of the hardest parts. You’re back on this battle to do the trick that you got hurt doing. It’s in the back of your mind, Oh, yeah. I could easily snap my leg again.
I&T Today: I bet that’s quite the mental game.
LV: Yeah. Nowadays, I kind of expect to get hurt. You can be the best snowboarder, but you’re not immune to an injury. Rarely a season goes by for the snowboarders I really look up to without some kind of ache, break, or real good bruise.
I&T Today: I heard you say in an interview, The will has to be greater than the skill. What’s the importance of the quote?
LV: It’s a Muhammad Ali quote. My dad had a quote for every situation, whether it was getting in trouble, doing well, having a hard day. The will’s gotta be greater than the skill means that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work on it and work for it, you’ll never really reach your full potential. There are those rare people who are so naturally gifted, but others need to work their rear end off. Those people can be just as good, if not better, than the people who it comes more naturally to. For me, I want to make sure no one’s outworking me on or off the hill.
I&T Today: What advice do you wish you were given as a young professional athlete when you were starting out?
LV: It’s funny, I do things very differently than the average snowboarder. I’ve gone four and a half years without drinking. My dad always told me about working out, not drinking, and taking care of myself, but it’s hard to hear when you’re young and it’s your dad. But, when I was younger, it would have been cool if I would have taken care of my body more.
I&T Today: What do you think about elite, competitive sports for kids? Do parents push their kids too far?
LV: Personally, my parents did a great job. My dad is very competitive, and he walked that fine line between really pushing me and not burning me out. He was supportive, but not a soccer dad. My parents got me and my sister into gymnastics at a young age, which developed everything from discipline to air awareness, strength, and flexibility. And I got to play.
I think parents should allow their kids to play as many sports as possible and be as active as possible. For me, it came down to a point where I got really busy and had to choose between playing baseball or going snowboarding. I figured it out on my own, and my parents were supportive.
It is important to encourage your kids give it everything they have. Everything I do, I want to be the best at it. I could play tennis with Roger Federer, and I suck at tennis, but I’m going to try to win. I’m going to give in 110 percent. Even when I play soccer with my little cousins – I’ll let them have fun and score, but I’m not going to let them win!
I&T Today: I recently interviewed Red Bull Air Force Manager Jon DeVore. Before a big jump, he always reminds himself to control his inner animal because he feels the need to push it a little too far sometimes. Can you relate to that?
LV: Yes. I control that part of me by surrounding myself with people I trust, whether it’s my coach or Greg Brett (a Red Bull athlete and one of my best friends). There will be tricks I could just try, but you have to take the right steps: Is this physically possible? Can I visualize myself doing it? Do I have a setup trick for it? Greg, do you think I can do it? If the answer to all those questions is yes, I’ll go for it. But I trust my coach and Greg enough – 100% with my life – that when they say, “Um, I don’t think you got that,” I won’t do it. In snowboarding, you can take a hard slam and end up paralyzed.