She didn’t have a traditional introduction to the sport. She wasn’t groomed on the groomers, flying past the gates from the time she could walk. Her earliest memories were weekend family trips up north to Squaw Valley in California with her three siblings.
But once O’Brien got her bearings, she took off. Her speed and talent became undeniable. At 13 years old, she made a life-changing decision and uprooted her life, moving across the country for boarding school in Vermont.“
Living in San Francisco, driving three and a half hours, I wasn’t going to be able to train as much as my peers if I wanted to be competitive,” O’Brien said on the Voice In Sport podcast.
She attended Burke Mountain Academy, the same school as phenom Mikaela Shiffrin, just two grades below. O’Brien’s confidence was shaken at first, comparing herself to other more-experienced skiers sharing the same dream. She had some catching up to do.
At age 17, O’Brien felt she was able to compete amongst the best of them and proved it when she won the national title at the 2015 U.S. Alpine Championship for giant slalom. To date, she’s earned seven national titles in super-G, alpine combined, parallel slalom, slalom and giant slalom.
She opened the 2021-22 season a career-best 15th on the World Cup start list in her first event. In the back of her mind though, this rank carried just a little bit more weight, as it was an Olympic year.
O’Brien wasn’t in a position to represent Team USA at the Winter Games in PyeongChang, so this marked the first time her Olympic dreams could become a reality.
While competing in Monday’s giant slalom event, O’Brien crashed, suffering multiple leg fractures. She was treated at the scene, then transferred to a hospital for further evaluation.
“Well, I gave everything I had, and maybe too much,” she said in an Instagram post.
“I keep replaying it in my head, wishing I’d skied those last few gates differently. But here we are. I had surgery last night to stabilize my tibia, which unfortunately was an open fracture through my leg. I’ll get the rest fixed at home, but for now I’m in great hands…”
While there won’t be a true “bet” on her today, we still want to celebrate O’Brien for the incredible person she is and talent that she has.
1. Because she has top-tier holiday sweater taste
It’s the llama for us.
2. Because she perfectly captures the snow aesthetic.
Making us seriously consider a winter trip to Italy and Switzerland.
3. Because one of her biggest fears is Krampus the Australian Christmas demon???
Listen, we have as many questions as you do but that’s what the U.S. Ski and Snowboard site told us.
4. Because she won the national title in giant slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Maine when she was just 17!
Same, Nina. Same.
5. Because even as one of the world’s top skiers, she’s opened up about her struggles with impostor syndrome
O’Brien spoke about her journey to the Olympics and why young female athletes drop out of sports at a higher rate than male athletes on the Voice in Sport podcast.