- Special Sections
It is no secret that the many of the athletes that adorn the pages of local and statewide newspapers come from team-based sports.
Everyone loves football, soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball etc..., and those sports do help sell papers, mainly due to the sheer volume of players that can be featured from game-to-game.
On any given day, someone new can be the hero.
In individual sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, you can either be the hero or the goat, depending on what kind of day you have.
A few great runs, someone else misses a slalom, and you win.
You fall down, catch and edge and get a little wobbly, you lose.
For Morgan resident Ryan Hryckiewicz, he has enjoyed the highs and has been stung by the lows in his journey to becoming one of Vermontâ€™s elite snowboarders.
Originally hailing from Springfield, VT, Hryckiewicz went from a two year-old learning to ski on the slopes of Okemo Mountain, to becoming a globe trotting professional/amateur (meaning that snowboarders and skiers ride a fine line between being a pro or not due to Olympic eligibility) rider.
I first encountered the 24 year-old this past summer when I answered an advertisement about firewood.
After a static filled conversation (still loving the cell service) I agreed to purchase a cord of wood, and then we would make any necessary size adjustments and go from there.
They day came and I met him at my home.
As we were unloading, we got to talking and he told me a little about himself, and I found out that he and I were both members of the same fraternity at Lyndon State.
While that in and of itself was a nice coincidence, it was what he told me next that had my ears wide open.
He, along with his father, had got into the timber business as a way to supplement his income while he toured the country and the world snowboarding.
While familiar with the sport, I have never been on a board, let alone have the guts to ride one down a mountain, or in my case, the bunny slope.
He mentioned that if I wanted any more wood, I would have to get him the details quickly as he was headed off to Austria to ride all fall long.
I asked when he planned on getting back, and he told me late November.
We agreed to both a few more loads of wood, plus a sit down discussion of his snowboarding career.
This past weekend we got together and we talked about the road that led him from Springfield, to Morgan, and then the world.
"The first time I got on a board was extremely frustrating," said Hryckiewicz. "I actually cried because I fell so much. But what really drew me to it was that it was just emerging during that period of mid 90's. It looked cooler and more "radical" than skiing, and as the youngest child (of three siblings) I wanted to be on the cutting edge. I couldn't quit, I was addicted to the sport."
While his elder brother started and dropped the sport, the youngest member of the Hryckiewicz clan pushed on, earning his stripes along the way.
"It was a long road and it was kind of systematic how (my journey) happened. You see the snowboarding and you want do it. It was never 'I want to be a competitive snowboarder,' I was just so fascinated and drawn to it, I just wanted to do it."
He started entering in age-based local competitions at his old stomping grounds of Okemo.
As he moved up in years, his competition level rose as well.
"You go from saying that maybe I am one of the best 13 year-olds in not just the area, to maybe in the region, then maybe nationally, and eventually you get to the point where age divisions don't really count anymore. You are an adult, whether you are 16, 17,18, you compete together."
Once he got to that point, Ryan said the real hard work began.
"It takes a long time to get the credit, to get accepted into contests that you get into today. You have to do a lot of small contests and build your way up."
So that is what he did.
Contest to contest, run by run, jump,by jump, and trick by trick, he did them all.
There would be a pair of moments in his teen years where the light bulb over his head clicked on and the idea of turning a hobby into a profession became a reality.
"The moments came at two drastically different moments in my life. The first when I was around 12 when I was dead set on half-pipe at the time. I had fallen on the pipe at nationals, but had also qualified for "slope-style" the next day, so I was bummed, but I thought I would do it anyway.
"I ended up getting second in that contest, which took me by surprise seeing as how it was not my focus at the time.
"Then came a year later when I went back to nationals and it was the same situation. I was focused on half-pipe, and I podiumed, getting third, and in those two years I thought this is what I want to do."
That was the first moment.
After realizing what he wanted to do moving forward, he was forced to take a step back as injuries, including a broken back and neck, seemed to derail his path.
During this time period, he made the move to Morgan with his family.
The move to Morgan meant having to find a new home mountain to train on, and that mountain is Jay Peak.
A mere weeks after settling into his new digs, he met his current girlfriend Sadie Collins.
Collins, who farms organically as a profession, and Hryckiewicz have been inseparable ever since.
"It takes a special kind of person to be able to deal with a guy who has to travel all the time, saying one year maybe Salt Lake City, and then Colorado the next."
With Sadie's support, it was moment number two that put him back on the course he is on today.
"During the 2009-2010 season at the Burton U.S. Open in Stratton I had really wanted to do well. I was going through each of the qualifying rounds thinking 'Hey, I'm doing really well.'
"Then I started looking at everybody else's rounds and I realized that they did not have much more on me and maybe I do have something else. I knew I was a little behind the curve, but it was not something that I could not make up."
From that moment on, there was no choice left for Hryckiewicz but to face the best competition in the world.
To say that was a daunting task would be a bit of an understatement.
"It was intimidating. Nobody's talking to you. You know who they are, but they have no clue who you are, and you are so focused on yourself that you have a little bit more nerves then they do because you are the foreigner in the foreign land.
"But you just need to focus like you would as a youngster at a regional competition. It is the same thing, just at a bigger level and you are thinking with an adult mind instead of a child's."
Now Ryan's biggest goal is to finally get that big win at the national level that could help vault him into the ranks of the sport's premier riders.
"I wish I could be able say I have sealed the deal and won that big race or competition, but I can't. I usually qualify really high, so at this point I can say that I am friends with all of the world's competitors, as we all do the same thing, but when it comes time for finals you have to land that run.
"I have had some pretty good results at the U.S. Open and at the Grand Prix, where I had a fourth place finish a few years ago.â€ť
Like I said, it is now all about the finish, and can he take the high level of riding that he brings to the qualifying events and making them translate into a trip to the podium on finals day.
This spring he suffered another setback, doing damage to his knee and foot at the U.S. Open, which meant the loss of the final two months of the season.
"I kind of kept it low-key, as I knew I could bounce back from it in about two or three months. So after missing the end of the season I wanted to find a way to come back this year with an edge."
That meant packing his bags and heading for Europe.
But Europe costs money you say?
Indeed it does, and that is where the whole timber business idea sprang from.
So while he was making money to help fuel the trip, he was also getting his body back into shape the old fashion way; Through hard physical labor.
"We would go out every day and log, sell the wood to local timber business' and then sell the scraps as firewood."
But it paid off, and on September 19, 2012 he was riding again in Austria, trying to get back that edge.
"It was great out there. It is mainly glaciers, but they start to get consistent snowfall in September and October, and after riding for two months out there, I have come back much stronger and now I am ready to go, seeing as how my winter began three months ago."
While across the pond, Ryan focused mainly on practicing, but did enter a few small competitions, usually winning enough Euro's to pay for his traveling expenses.
During his short time back in Vermont, he has managed to cut and sell a ton, literally a ton, of brush, shoot some new footage up at Jay and prepare for the season which means a move out to the Summit County area of Colorado, near Breckenridge, to start the 2012-2013 season.
"The trip out west is a big move, as I am moving my life out west, so I will cut another ton of brush on Sunday morning and be on the road on Monday morning."
While out there, he will be be not only competing in contests to help keep his name out there, but focusing on learning and mastering some new tricks to add to his ever growing repertoire.
"Things are serious, as it is all or nothing right now. Our bodies don't last very long in these sports, and by the time you are 30, you better be established. So at this point I have a real since that I am on the verge of unlocking my real potential. I think I can actually let fears fly out of the window and I feel so comfortable on (the board) that I can try anything.
"And I am going to go do exactly that."
I hope he does.
Ryan will be checking in with us from time to time this winter, so stay tuned to the Express to keep track of Hryckiewicz's 2012-2013 season to see if he indeed makes that next big step.