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The City Journals

Two Olympic Skiers Motivate Local Children

Aug 09, 2016 04:11PM ● By Tori La Rue

Liz Stephen and Ted Ligety, Olympic skiers, sign autographs for children at the YMCA Community Family Center in Taylorsville. –Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Utah native and Olympic Gold Medalist Ted Ligety began skiing at age 2, but the competition got tough when he made it to high school, he said during a presentation to more than 50 children at the YMCA Community Family Center in Taylorsville.  
“One of my friends was the fastest in the nation for our age for a number of years, and he would beat me by 7 seconds, which is super long in my sport, but I loved what I was doing, and I stuck with it,” he said to the group on Aug. 2.
Ligety recounted his joy upon making the national team and unexpectedly taking home the gold medal in the Olympics for Alpine Skiing at 21—the youngest American to claim this honor. That was in the 2006 Winter Olympics, and he’s been racing in the World Cup each year from October to March and training during the other months of the year since that time.
“I want to inspire kids to ski and do other sports,” he said. “I want them to learn that they can follow their dreams if they push themselves.”
Ligety has been sharing his skiing journey with children in northern Utah for the past three years through the Ted Ligety Learn to Ski Program in partnership with The National Winter Sports Education Foundation and the YMCA. The program offers tiered pricing for families who would not be likely to afford the opportunity otherwise.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was joined by cross-country skier Liz Stephen, two-time Olympian and four-time World Championship team member. The skiers presented medals to children who participated in the Learn to Ski program, answered questions, shared their journey to becoming professional athletes and signed autographs.
“These kids who are in this program are kids who might not have another way to get out and ski, so it’s nice to give them an opportunity to see the mountains and know what’s waiting for them right out their back door,” Ligety said.   
Stephen, originally from Vermont, has made her home in Park City for the past few years, and she’s grateful for the opportunity to come to events like the one at the Family Center to be more involved in her new community.
Stephen adored Picabo Street, World Cup alpine ski racer and Olympic gold medalist, when she was a child. Stephen made Street a paper mache mask that she gave to Street after watching one of Street’s races. Although Stephen now considers the encounter somewhat embarrassing, she said she’s grateful for the motivation Street gave her to pursue skiing.
“Now I have the opportunity to make a difference even if it just gives two or three kids the drive to follow their dream,” Stephen said about giving motivational presentations to children.
Annabelle Latta, 9, and her brother Mark Latta, 7, participated in the Learn to Ski program, and Ligety presented each of them a silver medal for their first season of alpine skiing and a gold medal for their second season of alpine skiing.
The siblings, who had been skiing a few times before entering the program, descended a few black diamond slopes by the end of their second season. The only bad part about their new favorite hobby was not being able to feel their feet at the end of a long ski day, Annabelle said.
Mark and Annabelle waited in line to approach Stephen and Ligety at the autograph table. Mark said he could hardly stand the excitement, and Annabelle said she had butterflies in her stomach. Ligety and Stephen signed pictures for the Latta siblings and advised them to continue to ski as a family.
“As a parent, I realize this was an incredible opportunity for them,” Gilbert Latta, the children’s father, said about meeting the Olympians. “We are taking their dreams and throwing some gas on it, and hoping that they might end up on the other side of the table someday.”

For more information about the Ted Ligety Learn to Ski Program, contact the YMCA in Ogden at 801-839-3385 or [email protected].