Local training for snowboardcross world cup
By Brittany Willsie
At 24 years old, Kennedy Justinen is training to represent Canada at the Snowboardcross (SBX) World Cup in Valmalenco, Italy.
Born and raised in Rocky Mountain House, Justinen hopes her fast-paced journey into professional snowboarding can inspire others to pursue their goals.
“From the time that I entered snowboarding, I always wanted to compete at a high level and that kind of stayed with me until I was much older,” she said.
“I gave up a lot of my time to just fully commit to being a professional snowboarder and yeah, you sacrifice things, but when you really commit to something, you can accomplish it – just maintain that belief regardless of what happens.”
Justinen first entered competition in March of 2018, and since then has advanced significantly, placing ninth overall in the NorAm Cup (Canada and U.S.) and surpassing the SBX World Cup criteria.
If the pre-race training in Reiter Alm, Austria goes as planned, she’ll compete in Italy on Jan. 22.
Justinen started snowboarding at the age of 10, learning the basics when her family would travel to Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
She continued throughout her youth, travelling to Lake Louise most weekends, but never moved past a recreational level. At the time, Justinen was focused on playing sports at West Central High School.
“I definitely wanted to be cautious on the mountain because I didn’t want to get injured for basketball or volleyball,” she said.
After graduation, she moved to Kelowna where snowboarding became her usual pastime. She competed in her first competitive race in March of 2018, which happened to be at the provincial level. She won on the first day and placed second on day two.
“Before that, I had never received coaching and had never really gone down a boardercross track,” Justinen said.
“The coach that I did have at the time, he was pretty impressed and he asked me what my bigger goals were. I expressed to him that since I learned to snowboard, I kind of always wanted to go to a high level.”
From there, Justinen got really involved in training and in November of 2018, she was invited to train in Austria among other racers who were training for the Europa Cup, a multinational-level competition in Europe.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t advanced enough at the time to compete.
“I didn’t end up competing in the Europa Cup, but I learned so much and I was very humbled. I totally felt like the underdog – I felt like I had no idea what I was doing,” she said.
Justinen experienced a lot of uncertainty after Europe, but said she was able to continue her journey with the help of Danielle Grant, a mindset mentor.
“She offered me a full coaching sponsorship. We would meet every week and she would basically just have conversations with me, dig out my negative perspectives and then help me flip the script.”
“I think the mental aspect of sport, or even just life in general, is so important. It’s so easy to get caught up in beating ourselves up and get into this downward spiral. I think that if I hadn’t had her, or some sort of coach in that area, I probably would have quit after that first month because it was so hard.”
Since then, Justinen has competed in two NorAm tours, placing 30th overall the first time around and ninth overall this past season. Her success qualified her for the world cup, but the news didn’t reach Justinen until months later.
Challenges of the pandemic
Due to COVID-19, SBX nationals were cut short, robbing Justinen of the opportunity to raise her rank from ninth.
“If I had finished eighth on the NorAm tour, I would have made the Canadian National Development team, so that was pretty depressing for me,” she said.
Without the news of the world cup, Justinen thought the season was over.
“I was focused on making team Canada, so when I didn’t meet that criteria, I just felt like the opportunities had been ripped out from underneath of me.”
The uncertainty of the pandemic lockdown was not without its challenges. Justinen moved back in with her parents in Rocky and didn’t know if she’d be able to find work.
“I just felt really lost and I didn’t know what the next step was.”
In May, she had the opportunity to work for Alberta Wildfire.
“I learned a bunch of new skills and met a really great community of people and spent most of the summer outside, so that really saved me,” she said.
In August, Justinen made the decision to move to Whistler where she started mountain biking, which is considered good cross training for snowboardcross.
“I think I had pulled myself out of the darkness and regrounded myself in the fact that I was able to continue training to some extent,” she said.
As she was previously training with a private team out of the U.S., Justinen reached out to BC Snowboard so she could continue training while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I reached out to BC Snowboard and at that point, the coach told me that I had the minimum world cup criteria.”
“The funniest part about all of that was I had that criteria back in March, so the whole time that I was in this depressive state because of COVID, it was something that I had made up in my head. Looking back, those emotions were something that I made up and they weren’t even real; they weren’t based off of anything,” Justinen explained.
In preparing for the world cup, Justinen said she feels like she’s back at the bottom again.
“I have a lot of learning and work to do to get to the top of the world cup. So in that sense, I feel like the underdog again. I’m definitely really happy and excited for myself that I have made this goal in this short amount of time, but it doesn’t stop here.”
Justinen explained that Canada or BC Snowboard could pull her from the race for safety reasons if her technical ability isn’t up to par during training. However, she feels she is on track to compete.
“One of my mentors has said that peak performance for me at the world cup would be to finish in the top 20 and then an average performance for me would be to go to the event and see the features,” she said.
“I have only been in the sport for a little while, and as much as I want to inspire others, I want to keep it real and have people know that there is potential that I’m not quite there yet.”