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Olympic pride of a Native Alaskan snowboarder

WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Callan Chythlook-Sifsof grew up in the part of Alaska known as “The Bush” and spent her first 12 years in a village about 500 miles northwest of Anchorage, a place reachable only by boat or plane.

She received her first snowboard as a gift from an uncle when she was 7, and she and her older brother would pull each other across the rugged terrain.

She never imagined a snowboard would carry her to the Olympics and let her make history in the process. Chythlook-Sifsof is the first Native Alaskan – from the state’s indigenous cultures – to make the U.S. Winter Olympic team. Even she’s a little amazed by it all.

“When you come from where I come from, the Olympics are just something you see on TV. It’s never really real,” she said. “For everybody living there, I’m really proud to show to people that this isn’t just something that you see on TV. That real people can do this. It’s for everybody.”

It’s not that Native Alaskans have a disdain for the Olympics. Chythlook-Sifsof said the remoteness of the land doesn’t exactly lend itself to having Olympic dreams come true.

Even now there isn’t a snowboardcross course in Alaska. Her family moved to a ski resort in Girdwood – about an hour outside Anchorage – when she was 12, a move that allowed her to hone her craft.

And when she saw Girdwood native Rosie Fletcher take bronze in the parallel giant slalom in 2006, she knew the Olympics were suddenly a very real possibility.

She’s been amazed at the level support from the community, including fellow Native Alaskans. Though the role of trailblazer isn’t something she feels comfortable with, she is happy to lead the way.

When she found out she made the Olympic team, she celebrated with mother Gloria before taking a minute to realize the significance of her unlikely path to Vancouver.

“My whole family was going crazy and my mom kind of paused and said, ‘Do you know what this means?'” Chythlook-Sifsof said. “It was an emotional moment.”


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