VAIL — The uniform will be different, but the war cry will be the same.
Vail’s Sarah Schleper is coming out of retirement to hit the World Cup circuit next season, including the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek and Vail.
Schleper, who’s married to Mexico City native Federico Gaxiola and lives part of the year in Cabo San Lucas with him and their two children, became a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States this week. She was presented her letter of citizenship during a ceremony on Tuesday evening by the president of Mexico, Pena Nieto.
“I feel proud and excited to be a citizen of this beautiful country,” Schleper said. “I aim to get back into the starting gate and perform in the 2015 World Championships.”
After a long and successful racing career with the U.S. Ski Team, her naturalized citizenship status with Mexico clears the way for her to compete with the Mexican National Ski Federation.
Schleper competed on the World Cup for the U.S. from 1995 to 2011 when she retired from the team. She earned four World Cup podiums, including a victory at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2005.
“I’m doing it because I love racing and skiing and it’s a chance to get back out there and see what I can do as an older athlete,” Schleper said. “I want to compete in all the places I love to ski and love to race.”
The four-time Olympian said she loved representing the U.S. on the World Cup and was proud to do it, but she has a family now and balancing them with a full-time World Cup schedule is daunting.
“This creates more freedom for me to choose what I want to do,” she said. “I’ll be allowed entry into all the World Cup races I choose, and I can still take care of my family.”
She’s already spotting talent for Mexico’s ski team and is looking forward to helping build that program.
“A big part of our community is from Mexico and many of the visitors to the Vail Valley are from Mexico,” she said. “It seems like a natural fit.”
President Nieto presented about 150 naturalization certificates Tuesday, and Schleper’s was one of them. That gives her the green light to compete for Mexico on the World Cup circuit.
DREAM COME TRUE
“I can’t believe it happened because it’s been a dream for so long. We’re putting together projects and helping people train. I’m already bringing along two younger athletes. We’ll help build the whole team and get more people involved in the sport. It’s going to be exciting.”
She heads to Oregon’s Mount Hood on Thursday to begin training both herself and other skiers from Mexico’s team. She’ll focus on giant slalom this season, she said.
She’s been working since 2009 to get her Mexican citizenship. There’s a mountain of paperwork to work through, like any other country, but Tuesday she finally made it.
She said she was trying to get it in time for the Sochi Olympics, but everything takes longer than you think.
Schleper married Gaxiola in 2007, and that made her eligible for a Mexican passport. She started working toward dual citizenship in 2009.
In May 2012, the Mexican National Ski Association made its initial request to FIS. The U.S. Ski Team gave Schleper her release, and in November, FIS Council approved the change.
“I’m doing it because I love racing and skiing and it’s a chance to get back out there and see what I can do as an older athlete.”