Finding a way to succeed against odds
EDWARDS – Monica Schultheis is like most kids who competed at last month’s U.S.A. Snowboarding Association’s nationals in Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif. – she love her sport.But Schultheis took a different path to nationals than her fellow competitors.Last year, Schultheis enrolled at the Crested Butte Academy for her junior year of high school and prepared for her first year of competitive snowboarding.But even before Schultheis set foot on the mountain, there was plenty of work to be done. Schultheis received a partial scholarship to the boarding school, but had to find a way to pay for close to have of the more than $30,000 tuition.”I wrote a rough draft (fundraising) letter, my mom proof read it and I sent it to the old headmaster, who reviewed it,” Schultheis said. “I put a picture of me in the corner, made it look nice, and asked people for (donations) they could afford. I said anything could help.”Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, like the Beaver Creek Resort Company, as well as family friends, Schultheis covered just about all the tuition before heading to Crested Butte in the fall.Then, when Schultheis arrived at school, there was a sizable transition.”Being away from my family, being a boarding student and living with someone I didn’t know was kind of weird,” Schultheis said. “I missed my family a lot the first month there.”The Schultheis’ are a very close-knit family.”We do everything together,” said Monica’s mom Trish, who raised five kids by herself after her husband passed away in a plane crash eight years ago. ” People comment all the time. ‘I wish I could get my kids to be friends like that.'”For Monica, who is the second oldest of the kids who are each separated by two years, the decision wasn’t easy to move away from home. After spending her freshman year at Battle Mountain, Monica asked her mom to home-school her. Up to that point, Monica had spent plenty of time on the mountain snowboarding, but mostly just hanging out in the park and not in any formal competitions.
“I wanted to compete, but I didn’t know where to start,” Schultheis said.Trish was supportive of Monica’s athletic ambitions, but set certain priorities.”She didn’t like school so much, so I was always trying to tell Monica school is first, and then you can focus on the other things,” she saidWhen Monica heard from a friend who had gone to Crested Butte Academy about the school, she visited last summer, met with the former headmaster for a day, who asked her to attend the following year.On the roadMonica had to adapt to the academic rigors, but enjoyed the vast resources of the school.”In my Spanish class, we have three kids,” she said. “It’s great for me because I don’t work well in large classes. And it’s great for me because the teacher are there constantly.”John Chorlton, one of Monica’s coaches, thought she adjusted quickly to the high-level of snowboarding. “She (had) a different mindset,” he said. “Where as in the past, she could take her sweet time and gain confidence, she was forced to modify her approach to suit competition season.”It’s hard for a teenage girl to push through and be part of that. She doesn’t see any of that. She’s in the office, wants to constantly see video and is asking what she can do to be better.”
From her days in the park at Vail and Beaver Creek, Monica had given herself a good base for competitions.”She came to us with a great set of skills,” Chorlton said. “The first year is mostly a building year and about confidence and having a good mindset with competitions.”In her first halfpipe competition at the Copper Series, Monica had a great first run, then went to grab a bit to eat with her mom and accidentally missed the second run, but still took seventh.Monica, who was riding on a four-year-old board, got a pleasant surprise early in the season.”(Earlier) my coach said, ‘You need a new board,'” said Monica, who knew she had to play about $5,000 for traveling expenses and entry fees. “I told him, ‘What am I going to do?’ After the first Copper series, they do a raffle, and I didn’t win anything. The last thing they gave out was a snowboard, and I got my name called.”Model studentIt didn’t take long for the faculty to notice Monica.”I’ve taught and coached hundreds of kids and Monica is s type you gravitate towards because she’s got a particular gleam on her eye,” said Crested Butte Head of School Graham Frey. “She gives tours and she’s definitely been one of our posterchildren.”Even during last week’s spring break, when Monica was back in Edwards, Frey didn’t have to look far for a reminder of Monica’s good heart.”She’s great a crocheting – she crocheted hats for my two kids,” Frey said on the phone, with his kids running around in the background.
Like any high school, though, there can be some teenage drama.”For a lot of the girls at this school, they are in the minority. It’s not easy for them,” said Christian Robertson, one of Monica’s coaches. “They are often outnumbered and the energy of a bunch of teenage boys can be overwhelming, and they aren’t always accepting. It’s the reality of the social dynamic. I giver her credit for her resiliency.”And as far as the other typical high school stuff, Monica isn’t too worried.”A lot of kids got kicked out for making dumb decisions,” she said. “I’m not about to take that risk because of all the things I’ve put into it. A lot of the kids don’t appreciate what’s in front of them.”Hanging with the boysDuring the season, Monica’s riding improved, and she won the overall Copper Series in both the boardercross and slopestyle, while taking fourth in the halfpipe.All of it came as a bit of a surprise to Monica, as she hadn’t expected to do that well.”No, not by any means,” she said.But there was still some hard work to be done. While preparing for the USASA nationals, the only other girl at her school slated to compete in boardercross got hurt, so Monica’s coaches decided she should practice against the boys.”She didn’t love it,” Chorlton said. “But a week before nationals, she was ready to go. I watched it pay off in the finals. I watched her hold her line, not be intimidated by other riders and ride with confidence.”
Monica took second in boardercross, sixth in slopestyle and 16th in the halfpipe.”She exceeded expectations,” Robertson said. “Seeing where she was at the beginning of the season with her background, I’d be really happy if she qualified for nationals. To do have a top-three (finish) in boardercross top 10 in slopestyle is huge. The big thing it’ll really help will be a boost for her confidence and help her be more motivated for next year. … With more work and time she could move forward.”Even with her success, Monica still misses her family when she’s away.”I don’t have a cell phone,” Monica said. “I barley ever get to talk to any of my family.”When home during break last week, Monica helped her mom start to move into a different house in Edwards.”We’re downsizing so I’ll have a bit more money so I can get Monica a cell phone,” Trish said.Already, Monica is thinking about her next season.”I want to do the first trimester and third trimester so I can take winter off and just snowboard so I don’t have to worry about doing work,” Monica said. “At nationals I had this huge 20-minute presentation I had to think about that I had to do the day I came back. But it worked out.”And she’s optimistic next year will go just as well.”In my head it seems like it will go pretty well, and I’ll probably go back for a post-grad year.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.