Long-awaited bronze medal sparks Canada's Kevin Hill to keep 'going hard'
Snowboard cross athlete lands back on podium after 3-year absence
In 2016, Kevin Hill lived atop the mountain.
A silver medal at the World Cup stop in Baquiera Beret, Spain, had once again reinforced the idea that Hill should continue representing Canada in the fast and fluky sport of snowboard cross.
After all, the Vernon, B.C., native had just completed a 2015 season that included silver at the world championships and gold at the Winter X Games. Add in a top-10 result at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and another at that year's X Games, and the evidence was undeniable.
The right decision had been made. Giving up a career in BMX riding for a shot at snowboarding glory was a choice Hill struggled with ahead of his FIS debut at Big White in Kelowna, B.C., in 2008. His belief in his quickness and agility was beginning to pay off.
But then, a funny thing happened.
Hill stopped winning. The top-10 results turned into top 20s and top 30s. At the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the second fulfillment of a boyhood dream ended in 14th place.
Last season, a fourth-place finish in Germany portended some hope that Hill's luck would turn. The next four results? Twentieth, 34th, 24th, 7th. Season over.
"Last year I had a tough year. The Olympics didn't go as I hoped or planned, and just missing the podium in [Germany] with a fourth last year I was kinda disappointed," said Hill earlier this week.
"I had lost a little bit of hope."
That hope was restored back in Baqueira Beret at the beginning of March, when Hill boarded to bronze.
'Better to wear out than to rust out'
Hill turned 32 in the off-season. He knew that he wanted to continue snowboarding, but he couldn't cut the nagging feeling that his best days were behind him.
So, he decided he would pursue some sort of summer job to supplement the full-time career of snowboard cross. And the 2022 Olympics — those Games are much too far in the future to think about.
"I like to take it year by year now in the career because anything can happen whether its injuries or bad results," he said.
Hill lives by the motto, "it's better to wear out than to rust out."
"It means to me that you only live once and it's better to do the things you enjoy in life the most and if you get injured and whatever setbacks come along the way, go as hard as you can for as long as you can," said Hill.
WATCH | Hill climbs back atop the podium with bronze in Baqueira Beret:
It's a mindset that has been instilled in him throughout his entire life. Soon before Hill was born, his mom Arleigh decided the best choice for her family was to switch to a vegan diet. In a matter of weeks, she was making her own almond milk and tofu.
Veganism and its health benefits meant a lot to Arleigh. To this day, Hill remains a vegan. He says he's tried chicken and fish no more than five times and doesn't particularly like it anyway.
Meanwhile, Hill's dad, Don, is 63 years old and still rides BMX with his son and plays hockey twice a week.
"I learned [the mindset] pretty much from my dad," said Hill. "He still goes hard with everything he loves so I'm trying to follow the footsteps."
So when a string of difficult World Cup results had Hill "getting a little down on [himself] and maybe thinking it was time to retire," he realized exiting in that fashion would be the definition of "rusting out."
He had to keep going. After all, his sports idol is the iconic Rafael Nadal. If nothing else, to follow the Spaniard's legendary tennis career is to learn that even when everyone else thinks it may be over, it doesn't have to be over.
"When he plays a tennis match, he could be down in the first set 6-2 or 6-1 or something like that and come back and win in the fourth or fifth set," said Hill. "He never gives up. He always goes hard."
And so Hill didn't give up, and he returned for the 2019 campaign, ready to rediscover himself on the slopes.
The season began with a 10th-place finish in Italy, followed by 39th on the doomed German mountain in Feldberg.
But finally, back in Baqueira Beret, the same place where Hill had last climbed the podium, the now 32-year-old ascended once again as he won bronze.
"It was a relief," said Hill. "Coming back to the podium again gives me a little bit of a spark to want to continue to move on, do better, pursue my dream."
On Saturday morning, Hill will strap on his boots for the final race of the World Cup season in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. He says the pressure is off now. Snowboard cross is a fickle sport, and maybe its random nature is beginning to turn back in Hill's favour.
"As I get older and more experienced, I just kinda know to expect the randomness," said Hill. "Anything can happen."
Hill will use Veysonnaz as an opportunity to ride freely on a course where he feels comfortable and has been successful at in the past. He'd like to move up the overall standings, so it's not like there's nothing at stake.
A renewed sense of confidence could only help.
"Getting on the podium makes you realize that hey, you still have what it takes."