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Family cheers on Alaskan competing in Olympics

By KTVA Alaska 8:22 PM February 5, 2014

Slopestyle snowboarder Ryan Stassel competes in Winter Games Wednesday at 9 p.m.

ANCHORAGE – Slopestyle snowboarding is a sport in which big air can lead to major glory.

For one Olympian on the cusp of that glory, his journey can be traced back to the snowy mountains just south of Anchorage. That’s where the Stassel family would spend cold afternoons out on Hilltop and Alyeska slopes.

“I think he was 9 years old when I dropped him off at Hilltop on a weekend and he asked to sign up for an event, and we did,” Ryan Stassel’s father Steven recalled. “When I picked him up that evening he had a gold medal around his neck.”

Little did Steven know, family recreation would become Ryan’s profession and that gold medal would offer a shimmering glimpse into the possibilities now within his reach.

“There’s lots of times that I had absolutely no idea how we could make something happen, but simply because I didn’t know at that time didn’t mean I wouldn’t try,” Steven said.

That family support, coupled with the sheer determination, would propel Ryan to the pinnacle of an athletic career — competing in the Winter Olympic Games.

“He would say, ‘when I go pro’ and we had no idea what it meant. But I guess we do now,” Steven said with a smile.

Ryan’s family said they were elated to learn he would be joining Team USA in Sochi, Russia, but they said the news came as no surprise.

“To make the Olympic team is a huge accomplishment, but it’s only another tiny step in his progression over all these years,” Steven said.

Hours before Ryan was set to begin shredding powder at Sochi for the inaugural slopestyle snowboarding competition, Ryan’s younger sisters Emily and Allison did the same with adaptive sports program Challenge Alaska.

“He just really got me outside and able to enjoy snowboarding,” Allison said.

Allison followed the first tracks left by Ryan into competitive snowboarding. Her brother’s journey has taught her an invaluable lesson, she said.

“You’re not always going to be the best, but you can get there,” Allison said. “You just have to really work on it and be able to move past the little things.”

And what better proof than Ryan’s own story — when you wipe out, dust off the snow and continue to grind, and there’s no telling what heights you might reach.

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