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A tale of starting from scratch

Shauna Farnell, Daily Staff Writer
Preston Utley/Vail Daily Eden Serina is a pioneer of the Philippine National Snowboard team. She taught herself how to ride about six years ago and is now aiming for the Olympics.
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AVON – It’s a big step from Wall Street to the World Cup snowboard racing circuit. But as much as Eden Serina doesn’t like to use these kinds of clichés, she said this was her calling. The 30-year-old Avon resident stepped onto a snowboard for the first time about six years ago. Now she’s aiming to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics.It’s not the American flag Serina envisions herself waving through the Games’ opening ceremonies. It’s the flag that represents her family and her bloodline – the flag of the Philippines.The Philippines? That little jungle in Asia? Is there even snow there?Serina has heard the latter question multiple times since she began racing for the Philippine National Snowboard Team four seasons ago.The answer? No.

“This is my chance to show the world that the Philippines, despite being a small, tropical country, can still participate in winter sports and participate well,” said Serina Sunday, when she was back in town for two days between the inaugural World Cup event in Korea last week and this week’s race in Lake Placid, NY. “There are special (World Cup racing) regulations for tropical countries. Your parents have to be of blood and have to have been born there. There is a quota that two – or a certain number of racers – can compete for that country. It was something I could do to give back to my family and my ancestry. Because there’s no snow in the Philippines, realistically, there will not be any person that lives there full-time that can do a winter sport. This is my chance to do that.”Born in West Virginia before moving with her family back to the Philippines for three years, Serina and her family moved on to Los Angeles, Calif., where her immediate family still resides. Emerging from this family of doctors and engineers, Serina moved to New York City to get her degree in finance and marketing from New York University. She graduated and got a job at an investment bank in the World Trade Center. For almost seven years, she wore a neatly pressed business suit and high heels, got into work at 7 a.m., had a coffee and an espresso in the morning, another coffee at lunch, which, along with dinner, she ate at her desk. She gazed into a computer all day until about 9 or 10 p.m., sometimes on the weekends, too.”That had been my dream since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I always wanted to go to New York and see the tall buildings and do the Wall Street thing and the financial thing. I had a view of the twin towers. It was everything that I had always thought I’d wanted. It was a good life. I was making good money. I was on a career path going up and up.”The fateful day for Serina came earlier than Wall Street’s most notorious fateful day. In March of 1999, Serina’s dreams changed. A path through new gates”It all started in ’98 when I went skydiving,” she said. “It was just such a surreal experience, just looking out and saying, ‘Wow, there’s so much to life.’ Everything was just so beautiful. I suddenly wanted to make sure I got everything I could out of life. I started snowboarding.”Every few weeks during the winter of 1998, Serina would take a three-hour bus ride to Hunter Mt., NY, with her 148-centimeter freestyle board and soft boots. After quitting her job the following year, she looked at a map of Colorado, put her finger on Vail, and decided to pack up her dreams and relocate.

“It’s not that I was unhappy,” she said. “I was definitely on the path to go somewhere, it just didn’t feel right. I just started thinking, ‘Life is so short, and I really love snowboarding. Maybe I’ll try to make a career out of it. People talk about having a calling to do certain things, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. But I didn’t know anything about it. I knew there were two directions I could go. I could go into racing, or I could go into freestyle. I was like, well, I’m too old to start doing jumps and going into the pipe and learning all that stuff.”So, having moved to Vail, Serina started working part-time at Slifer Designs and decided the best sources from which to elicit advice would be the pros. She called up Lynn Ott in Bend, Ore., and Edwards parallel giant slalom phenom Stacia Hookom. “They were both so nice and got right back to me,” Serina said. “Stacey gave me a board and bindings and speed suits and helmets. I still have all her stuff in my attic. I’m waiting to find someone else to give it to.”Switching from soft boots to hard boots and a carving board was no easy transition.”It’s almost completely different,” Serina said. “You use different muscles. It’s a different body stance and positioning. It was very challenging.”It was so challenging that when Serina signed up for her first racing event, the U.S. Grand Prix PGS at Breckenridge in 2000, she decided to use her old freestyle board. She wore Hookom’s speed suit, so at least she “looked like a racer from the waist up.””I was so nervous,” she said. “Three days prior, I couldn’t eat well or sleep well. I was so shaky. I had never really run gates before. I knew you had to go around them.”Unfortunately, Serina didn’t even make it that far. She launched out of the start, steered around her first gate and crashed headlong into the second one and was disqualified.”It was so embarrassing,” she said. “My knees came up and hit my ribs. The wind was knocked out of me. It was very discouraging.”

Finding a second windSerina picked herself up and started competing in local Snowboard Outreach Society races. She qualified for nationals her first season and took second place in her age group. It was the summer of 2000 that she contacted the Philippines Ski Federation and became a representative. In 2001, she and Jondre Mina, a former racer on the men’s circuit, became Team Philippines and she competed in her first World Cup race.”It blew me away,” she said. “It’s like, you just take a toddler and put them out in a hurdles race. They’re barely walking and they can’t run. That was me. I was thrown into this big world of elite races. Everyone was really nice to me, but I didn’t know anything.”That race was the first of many where Serina would finish dead last. “By a lot,” she added. Later in the season, however, carrying the flag for the Philippines in her first world championship in Italy gave her the surge she needed to continue.”That was a cool experience,” she said. “That was the first time the Philippines – at least in snowboarding – had been in a world championship.”Serina did a camp in Chile that summer and finally, after years of flying solo, found herself a coach – Steve Persons from Steamboat Springs.

“I was like, I can’t do this alone any more. I’m not learning fast enough,” she said. “Thinking back to the way I was riding back then … what a change. Snowboard racing is a lot harder than I thought it was initially. There are so many minute things you need to do and be aware of that can cost you so much time – the size of the board, the angle, stance and width of your bindings, making sure your ankles, knees and hips are all engaged. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”Serina laid off the World Cup a bit and concentrated on North American races. Then she competed in the 2003 World Championships in Austria, eased back into Cup racing, and slowly peeled herself off the bottom rung of the results bracket. Up, up and away”I got to walk with the flag again, slowly making my way up the ranks,” she said. “I thought, wow. This is great. I’m not last anymore. When I first started, coming in last kind of became the norm. Then I started not being last. Just seeing all the improvement, it was such a big motivation for me. I thought, wow, I’m getting better and better, making all these jumps in my training. It’s working.”Now Serina remains the one and only female member of the Philippine National Snowboard Team (two men recently joined the team, competing on the boardercross circuit). She is supported by the Vail Valley Foundation, and her coach is former Olympian Thedo Remnelink, who lives in Steamboat. She is very close to qualifying to compete in the 2006 Olympics. In order to compete, she needs to land a 25th-place World Cup finish and 120 FIS points before December. Right now, she’s got 107.5 points, and placed 26th in her last race.”I can taste it,” she said. “I just have to keep thinking about what my goal is – getting to the Olympics. My family goes to races and supports me so much. I’m dreaming about the day that I’m in the opening ceremonies and seeing their faces and how they would be. That definitely is one of the top motivators for me.”After Serina meets this goal, she will consider becoming competitive in another sport she loves: Motocross. “There’s a lot of things I want to do, just a lot of different things,” she said. “It still goes back to that whole feeling that, you know, life is so short.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com. Vail Colorado


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