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Torah Bright – Our Olympic Golden Girl

By Madeleine Gray and Dan Hutton on June 1, 2016 in People

Photo: Jeremy Greive

Photo: Jeremy Greive

Where are you originally from?
A place called Cooma. It’s quite a small, rural town, but it has grown since I was a kid. I wouldn’t know the population right now. I’d say it’s about 6,000.

Where are you living these days?
I’ve recently moved to Bondi Beach, actually. I guess I’ve been living here for the last year, and on and off for the year before that. Now I’m a full-time resident of Bondi Beach, though. I met my husband through work and he is from Watsons Bay, but has lived in Bondi for a very, very long time. It’s his favourite place in the world, I believe.

You previously lived in Utah; do you miss anything about living over there?

Yeah, I do. There’s no ocean in Utah, but in the winter it’s a wonderland; there are so many different areas to explore. Then in the summer, you’ve got rock climbing, mountain biking, and lots of rivers and lakes. It is a 15-minute commute to nature and you can go there not see anybody else the whole time you’re there.

What do love about the Eastern Suburbs?
I love the beach and I love that it is a full city community on the beach. My husband works in the city and he’s able to go for a surf or a run before he goes to work and I feel like that’s the lifestyle everybody dreams of. He needs to spend more time teaching me how to surf, though. The breaks are so crowded in the Eastern Suburbs. I can surf, but it’s definitely a confidence thing. I don’t get out there when it’s too crowded. I’m just not aggressive enough. I literally let my husband go and sit out the back and he gets the waves and I drop in on him. It’s the perfect arrangement.

What gets your goat about the Eastern Suburbs?

The traffic. What else? That and the crowded waves here.

Do you have any favourite restaurants or cafés in the area?
I love Raw Bar. The tuna tataki and miso eggplant are my favourite things on the menu. I can see them right now in my mind – my mouth is watering. The Bondi Tratt is a family favourite of my husband’s too, and we might go to Drake Eatery, the new one on Gould Street, for a date night. To be honest, though, for a ‘date night’ I love just staying at home and cooking.

What does a day in the life of Torah Bright involve?
When I’m not on the mountain doing my thing, it just depends on what’s going on. There’s often a lot of work on the computer with designing my outerwear label, the Roxy Bright Edition, and making upcoming winter plans for my webisode series. You’ll often see me out in the water, trying to paddle with a Sony Action Cam in my hand, trying to get some content for them. My work varies from day to day, really. I’m also taking a health coaching certification course at the moment, and I’m recovering from a concussion right now too. I’ve been out of action for three months or so and I’m still not quite there yet. I’ve still got crazy fatigue and can’t quite push it. I’ve had like seven notable concussions in my career, and I’ve always taken a pretty conservative approach to recovery time. Neurologists have told me that it’s an accumulative effect. I can’t handle any less than 10 hours of sleep right now.

Are you forced to take time off if you suffer a concussion? Are there rules in place with snowboarding?
Our sport is not regulated like that. If you are knocked out you may be asked or advised not to compete. It’s such a personal thing as to how you feel and whether it resolves itself in a week or a month. You have to trust your innate self to guide you there. Something I have learnt throughout my career is there’s nothing more important than your own health and a future beyond sport. Injury is inevitable in a sport like snowboarding. Being 100 per cent before returning to the sport creates longevity.

When did you start snowboarding?
I started skiing when I was two years old, living so close to the mountains. We were all about two years old when we started. We were literally pulled up the hill on a rope. Snowboarding just stumbled upon me, really. I was one of those little kids who made fun of the snowboarders when they were around. I thought skiing was awesome. Then I just tried snowboarding for something new with my brother and it was like a whole new world opened up. It showed me that the mountain was like a blank canvas and it was the freestyle aspect that really took my liking. I followed my brother and his friends around the mountain, finding little hits on the side of runs, hopping and catching air and learning how to spin. I was 11 years old, I think, when I started snowboarding.

These days I’m known for the competitive side of the sport, but it’s not why I snowboard at all. Since the Vancouver Olympics I’ve actually done very little competing and I’ve just tried to snowboard the way I want to, and that’s riding powder. I love going to these beautiful mountains and just finding my own way down, connecting with the snow, whether it’s in the resorts or hiking a bit out of bounds. Of course the heli trips are amazing, too. There are a few great perks to being me. I’m linked with an Australian company called Travel Plan Ski Australia and I host a heli trip for them through CMH Heli in Canada each year. It’s an ambassador-type role. The trips that they do are totally life changing.

You moved overseas to chase good snow when you were 14, a big move for someone so young; how did that affect you growing up?
It was a quick progression once I got on my snowboard. When we were skiing we entered local events and that’s what we did, so when I got on the snowboard it was natural to go in the local events for that too. My siblings all started snowboarding at the same time and we were all recognised as new, talented kids, so we got supported by a few companies and then it just kept going from there.

My brother Ben and I went to Canada and we stayed with friends, and then I had the opportunity to go to Whistler, which was like Disneyland for snowboarding. I went there on a magazine trip and I didn’t want to leave, so I didn’t. I found a friend of a friend who let me sleep on their couch. I barely 14 and just snowboarding everyday. I stayed there for about a month. I don’t ever remember feeling that it was hard. The only way I was going to make something out of snowboarding was by taking any opportunity I had.

After that I competed in the junior championships and I got a third place in the half pipe. That was the first time I was gauged against other kids my own age and I could see how good I was. After that I got a little bit more support and kept going overseas. The next year I went to Mammoth Mountain and that’s when I turned professional for Roxy and I started being taken to events and on shoots. I was 15 years old and I haven’t really stopped since.

When did you start thinking about Olympic medals?

Never, to be honest. My parents had always brought us up with the mentality that if you’re going to do something, no matter what it is, give it your all otherwise don’t bother. I was a young kid, I loved snowboarding and I had good opportunities. It was perfect timing as far as the industry goes, too. There was room for a young girl who was good to be taken in and to grow.

These days it’s a little different. It’s now one of those sports that is growing in female participation and I think it’s due to the women before me who inspired me to go: ‘Well she’s a bad-ass woman, I want to be like that. I can do that.’ You definitely see that now. I was up the coast surfing recently and I was so pumped to see so many young girls surfing. At the moment, there’s this empowerment of women; they are having the confidence to do whatever and take anything on, and it’s so awesome.

Growing up on the slopes, often there’s no authority figure there breathing down your neck; do you think that independence made you mature more quickly?

It’s interesting that you say that, because a lot of people think that any successful young kid always has ‘soccer mum’ parents who just push you. Being on the mountain, Mum and Dad spent so much money on their kids going on the mountain that they didn’t really go on the mountain themselves. Once we got on the mountain we literally had no authority guiding us. I lined up in the queue; I went up. It was me and my little sister and my brother.

I feel like I did get a true sense of myself quite early on in a way. It was fun being a young kid and being taken under the wing of some of these older people who were just freaking amazing shredders.

Fast-forward a little and now you’ve won a heap of competitions; what would you say your biggest snowboarding achievement has been?

That’s a hard one because, personally, I don’t value the contest results. I’ve never let it define me as a person or who I am as a snowboarder. The accolades have never been the reason why I’ve done it. I think, to be honest, I value the friendships and the experiences more than anything. I was just another kid in Cooma snowboarding in the Snowy Mountains of Australia and watching snowboarding videos, seeing this world outside of our little snowboarding community, and then all of a sudden I was a part of that world. I was riding with Terje Haakonsen and Tara Dakides and getting invited to their events, and being told by them that my style was amazing. That is what I’m still giddy about now to be honest. That’s the highlight of my career.

How did it feel to win an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010?
With the whole of Australia and the snowboarding industry watching and knowing what I was capable of, relief was what I felt most after winning the 2010 Olympic Games. There are so many things that have to line up for any athlete to be the best in an Olympics. The stars need to align on that one day, once every four years. For any athlete, it’s pretty huge.

You seemed to enjoy the silver medal you won at the Sochi Olympics even more…
I did. I did. Everything was satisfying about it. I made history that Olympics by qualifying for three snowboard events. I felt like I had a connection to my snowboard more than any other year. I went into the half pipe event like every other one I had gone into before, knowing that if I did what I set out to do and did it well enough I would happy with that. I did the best that I could do that night. In my world that means winning.

Since the last Winter Olympics, you’ve been exploring your non-snowboarding related talents a little; can you tell us a bit about your time on Dancing with the Stars?
Dancing with the Stars came about post-Russia and it was my ‘yes year’. I just said yes to everything. I said yes to writing an autobiography, yes to Dancing with the Stars and… yes to my now husband. Actually, that came a bit later. I literally said yes to everything, though. I’m glad I did it, but that shit was tiring. I love dancing. I’m the first one on the dance floor and the last one to leave. I actually ended up leaving the show because I stubbed my big toe in week seven and it literally affected me into my next winter. I had some problems with my achilles too. It was an ongoing problem for a little while, which was hilarious because I literally stubbed my toe dancing.

The Winter Olympics in South Korea are coming up in 2018; are you planning on competing over there?
Yeah, that’s the plan. Until then I’ll just be shredding and finding time to get back in the pipe and keep up the skills. The best thing you can do is just have contact with the snow and snowboard every which way as much as you can. The trickery I have now is the trickery I am keeping and I’m working on perfecting that, and keeping the art form alive. Competitive snowboarding these days to most people just looks like gymnastics, because there are so many rotations. I am just focusing on just perfecting the tricks that I enjoy doing.

Does snowboarding feel like a full-time job these days or is it still just a whole lot of fun?

It’s a total job. You have obligations; you have deliverables. It’s a job, but it’s a really fun job that I love. It’s the best job you can have. That said, no matter how much you love it, it’s hard travelling and it’s hard being away from family. When I was younger it was hard missing out on school, too. I loved school. I was that kid with glasses sitting at the front of the classroom writing every single note down. I missed that connection. I missed my friends. To keep snowboarding and still finish my schooling, I’d literally snowboard six months of the year and then for five months of the year I’d be catching up on the previous half year that I’d missed. You miss the normality of everyday life when you’re on the road.

Being a woman in sport, it seems that when you speak up about issues the media paints you as a ‘whinger’; is that a fair assessment?
It’s interesting. In Sochi [when Bright spoke up about the poor condition of the some of the facilities], that was the general feel from every person and a lot of other countries too. I don’t think the backlash was gender related, it was just the media selling papers. That said, do you think that if the Australian cricketers spoke up about bad pitch conditions they’d be told to stop whinging? It was a little irritating to be honest that we as professionals couldn’t give an honest opinion and educate the media and the general public on the conditions. I mean, I do believe that for women in sport generally, we’re suppressed, but a lot of sports aren’t that way. I feel grateful that I’ve never had that battle in my sport. It has taught me that there are no boundaries, only the ones we place on ourselves. I’m a strong, independent woman. I’m going to do what I want.

The Australian snowboarding community is really tight; who in the community inspires you and keeps you strong?
Oh my gosh, that’s a hard question to answer. I literally feel like I’m a kid in a candy store with the friends that I have. My mother and my sisters inspire me, and of course my husband. To see his light and happiness, and his enthusiasm for every single day, it’s incredible. Who else? There’s something to learn from everyone.

What does your role as Thredbo ambassador involve?
I share my love of snow and encourage people to come and experience it for the first time. Come play in the snow with your family, build a snowman, go tobogganing and have a snowball fight. Chuck on some skis or a snowboard if you fancy. See why so many people love Winter. I spend time down in Thredbo riding during the winter, but also working with the media team and creating content for their marketing.

What do you love about Thredbo?
Thredbo, without being biased, is my favourite resort in Australia. It’s the only mountain village in the country that feels like a true European-style village. There’s good food, there is a community that lives there all year round, and there is great entertainment after you’re done on the mountain. The terrain is so different and unique compared to anywhere else in the world. You’re snowboarding among the gum trees. It’s amazing.

Thredbo is where Mum and Dad took us as kids. We learned to ski on Friday Flat, the beginners area. They pulled us up with a rope and we skied down. It’s the perfect beginner area; it’s such a mellow slope.

And summer time at Thredbo is also incredible. There are heaps of mountain biking opportunities and you can literally walk to Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia, on foot.

Do you support any charities or do any internationally?
Yeah, Free to Shine is one that I support locally. They support women’s empowerment. It’s for girls in Cambodia, to help them educate themselves and create skills so they can support themselves in their communities. They were my charity in Dancing with the Stars too. I’ve also done some stuff in the States with the Unstoppable Foundation. It’s kind of the same philosophy. I want to find something here in Australia to support. There are a lot of people who need help outside of our country, but there are a lot of people who need support here too.

In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Torah Bright?

An ideal world, I’d just like a happy little family, to be honest. Kids are a little while away, but ever since I was 12 years old I’ve been looking forward to that and now I’ve found someone I want to do that with. It feels pretty awesome. I can see a little veggie patch in the backyard, with little grommets.