No time for doubters: Cassie Sharpe wants to be a world champion
Olympic ski halfpipe champ looking to add a world title to her already-impressive resume
After months of preparation, competing in various events and training camps leading up to the 2016 X Games, Cassie Sharpe was starting to worry that the pain in her back was worse then she thought.
"Right before going to the games in Oslo, I was like, 'no, this is really painful [and] we need to get it checked,'" Sharpe said.
What the Canadian ski halfpipe star believed to be a muscle spasm was actually a stress fracture in her back, and her doctor suggested that she sit out the X Games and recuperate.
Sharpe was having none of it.
"I don't care if I'm in pain," she told CBC Sports in a phone interview from Utah. "I called the doctor and I said 'do you think I'll make it worse?' and he said 'there is a chance you can make it worse, but probably not.'"
"I said 'OK, you tell them I'm going.'"
Aided by a back brace, Sharpe was able to capture gold at those 2016 X Games in Oslo, Norway.
Stories like this have almost become commonplace in Sharpe's career. We shouldn't be surprised by the fact that her path to the top of the freestyle skiing world has been fuelled by an unwavering confidence, mental toughness and a devoted support system.
The 26-year-old from Comox, B.C. has been dominant in her sport since winning silver in the women's halfpipe at the 2015 world championships. In addition to countless World Cup podium finishes, Sharpe won Olympic gold in Pyeongchang in 2018 and also captured last year's World Cup crystal globe, finishing first overall in the women's halfpipe standings.
Heading into the 2019 FIS world freestyle skiing championships this week in Utah, Sharpe is looking to add a world title to her already impressive resume by continuing to push her boundaries.
"I need to be on top of my game, skiing my best. I've been really pushing, learning some new stuff in the halfpipe… I'm just going to try to do my best and be my best and have fun."
Family support system
Sharpe's sustained love for the sport stems from her support system — her family. At the age of nine, Sharpe and her family moved to Comox when her father got a job at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Her parents were quick to put her and her two brothers, Doug and Darcy, in ski school.
"We just kind of organically kept going up with them every weekend, they put us in ski school and we eventually broke away from ski school and just started going to train the training park."
Sharpe's younger brother Darcy is a decorated slopestyle snowboarder. Starting their craft at such a young age has carried them to great success throughout their careers.
"I think that's kind of how both Darcy and I remained kind of in love with it."
Growing up, Sharpe struggled with the amount of travelling involved in becoming a professional skier. Without her mother's support, she doesn't know where she would be
"Travelling and competing and pursuing this kind of career is super difficult to maintain friendships back at home especially at the time when I was in high school," said Sharpe, "My mom was kind of that person for me at the time, and I think having that was so important.
"I don't know if I would have been able to keep up with what I was doing if I didn't have her support and her love and that kind of camaraderie — even as my mother."
WATCH | Cassie Sharpe's 'home' is wherever her family is:
Constantly being on the road, Sharpe has had the luxury of mutual support from her brother Darcy, regularly seeing him at many of the same big events. Her family also regularly makes trips to watch and support as well.
"I see him at X Games, I will see him next week at world champs, my parents are coming to world champs, so it's pretty cool to have that kind of support while on the road." said Sharpe.
Mental toughness through doubt and injury
Many have questioned Sharpe's abilities over the years, but time and again she has been able to answer. From the start of her career, people looked to discount the silver medal she earned at 2015 world championships.
"At those world champs I got so much criticism for the whole field not being there, and every interview I did they were like 'the top eight girls aren't here, they're at X Games'," said Sharpe, who remembers being motivated by the doubters.
"It just ate away at me, it really just peeved me off. It got me so revved up and so angry that I just knew that at the next one I had to show them why I got second. It was not a fluke and I wasn't here to just mess around get second back by default."
Sharpe was adamant on capitalizing on her next opportunity on the world stage. Just a couple weeks later she won her first World Cup gold medal against a full field in Tignes, France.
"Coming out to that World Cup in France, I was just super fired up to show them that I wasn't here to mess around and that it wasn't an accident."
It's no secret that the halfpipe is a dangerous event, and Sharpe has been no stranger to injuries over the years. Sure, it's tough to compete through pain, but Sharpe's ability to excel through injuries is remarkable.
Months after winning the 2016 X Games while wearing a back brace, Sharpe broke her thumb during a fall in the qualifying rounds of a World Cup event. Sharpe taped up her thumb, got back on the snow, and became the first woman to land a switch cork 720 in competition. She eventually required surgery to repair her broken thumb.
"I just think that I was so set on proving everyone wrong," she said. "I don't know if I have this idea that I need to prove everyone wrong or if I need to prove it to myself that I can do what I say I want to do."
More recently, Sharpe was able to conquer another mental barrier by finishing with a silver medal during a World Cup event at Copper Mountain this past December. The venue has proved to be a tough obstacle for Sharpe, three years ago she took a tumble there while doing one of her easier tricks.
"It was always just a crash and burn competition for me. It was good to make the final, but then once I was in the final my competitive genes kicked in," says Sharpe who mentioned she had a fire lit under her skis when she was upset by 16-year-old Estonian Kelly Sildaru.
WATCH | 2nd place finish 'sets a fire' under Cassie Sharpe's skis:
"All the media that followed was obviously talking about how I was knocked down, and then going into X Games somebody called me the underdog. I kind of thought that was crazy and it was just kind of hard to take a second place to somebody that's so new in the halfpipe."
Sharpe would step up with an impressive third-run score of 94.00 to edge Sildaru and gold in the very next competition in the women's superpipe at the Winter X Games earlier this year in Aspen, Colo.
"I just knew that I had to be perfect. so I went out of my way to go really big and grab my feet and do everything in my power to be my best skier at that moment. I knew I had to be perfect to try to one up her."
WATCH | Cassie Sharpe flies to ski superpipe gold at X Games:
Keeping focus and competitive edge
Like any Olympic champion, Sharpe has experienced a rise to fame after the 2018 games in Pyeongchang. In addition to all the media attention and interview requests, Sharpe even got the opportunity to go to the Golden Globes
"It was so out of my element and completely not my scene. It was pretty cool just to experience Hollywood, it makes you feel pretty small," Sharpe said. "It was really fun to meet some of those celebrities and wear a pink power suit that I would have never worn on a normal day."
But one thing that hasn't changed is the competitive edge that got her there. Just a month after winning Olympic gold, Sharpe capped the 2017-18 halfpipe campaign with a World Cup victory to reach 329 points on the season and secure the World Cup crystal globe.
"I knew that I wanted to go to France because I knew I wanted the crystal globe, that's something that I've always wanted to do, I got to France and some of the other girls were like 'wow I'm really surprised you're here, you just won the Olympics, what are you doing?'" Sharpe said. "Why wouldn't I be here? It seems to me like it was not even a question. I had people telling me 'no, you shouldn't go just take a rest you won the Olympics.'"
With Sharpe's attitude and competitive edge it's hard to imagine her reign at the top fading anytime soon.