For Sam Tuff, snowboarding is a way of life
Twelve years ago, a blonde-haired, wobbling-kneed Sam Tuff was locked into a pair of skis, harnessed by a leash and was cruising down the hill behind her house.
She was 18 months old.
Now, you'll see 13-year-old Sam strapped onto a snowboard racing around Canada Olympic Park — or COP — and many of Calgary's other surrounding ski resorts.
In Sam's 10 years of snowboarding, she has reached significant milestones and braved competitions that older and more experienced riders may not attempt.
Heather Tuff, Sam's mother, said, "Snowboarding is in her blood," as she smiled and pointed to her own snowflake-shaped tattoo.
Both of Sam's parents have been on the snow for over 20 years. They had originally started Sam skiing so that she could ride around the mountains with them.
But she progressed quickly, and moved onto snowboarding before lessons were even available for children her age.
Riding with giants
Sam recently entered the 2012 Burton Canadian Open — a competition that brings professional and sometimes non-professional riders of all ages from all over the world to COP.
Surrounded by professionals, young Sam Tuff dropped into the Olympic-size half pipe and rode on rails brought to COP just for the event.
"I felt a bit of pressure dropping in," Sam said. "But it was fun, and everyone was really nice."
In the end Sam did not place, but got the opportunity to ride alongside seasoned professionals.
However, in an Edmonton open competition, buzzing around with locals and other riders closer to Sam's age, she took first place in the ladies division.
Currently, Sam is sponsored by Ski Cellar Snowboard, and Somewon Snow out of Revelstoke, B.C.
Representatives for Burton Alberta and Oakley Alberta also sponsor her.
With the help of her sponsors, she is able to get discounted gear and receives some financial support for her training.
Last month Sam came back from the 2012 Alberta Winter Games in northern Alberta.
The games are about celebrating youth sport and culture, as well as providing athletes with an opportunity to compete at the provincial level.
Sam placed second in boarder cross and third in slope style.
AJ Cairns, also 13, rides with Sam and joined her at the Alberta Winter Games this year.
"Sam makes snowboarding fun," Cairns said. "She is a good snowboarder because she has a really great attitude towards everything."
But all of this skill and early success did not come without work.
Sam is at COP five to seven days a week. She trains four days a week with the Development "B" team — part of the high performance academy at COP — with her coach Josh Duncan.
"Sam has the good kind of stubborn and she's going to do things her way," Duncan said.
The sky is the limit
Duncan said that Sam has the confidence to conquer all challenges — both in her life and in snowboarding.
He notes that when Sam goes on trips away from home, lessons are learned and many good times are had.
"I can't feel my legs! I can't feel my legs," are the words that echoed through the rooms of an Edmonton hotel when Sam had a nightmare on a group trip.
“Sam is a good snowboarder because she has a really great attitude towards everything.”
– AJ Cairns Now, hearing the same phrase shouted across the hill is no surprise to Sam or her friends — as it has become an ongoing joke between the coaches and the riders.
Duncan shares that when he was with Sam on her first big trip to Whistler, B.C., he could tell that it was eye-opening for her as she was exposed to a larger part of the snowboarding community.
Later this year, Sam plans to compete in the 2012 Canadian Freestyle Snowboard Championships, also known as Snow Crown, being held at COP. She hopes to place.
In years to come, she would like to compete in the X Games and one day she would like to go to the Olympics for half pipe or slope style.
"I just want to be able to snowboard for the rest of my life," Sam said.
- By Deja Leonard