Lindsey Jacobellis stands at the kitchen counter in her family’s Roxbury home where she grew up, chugging glasses of tap water. “Roxbury water, it’s got magic powers,” she says.
Maybe it was the water. Maybe it was her big brother, Ben. Somehow, Jacobellis, 28, went from a wobbly toddler on skis at Stratton Mountain in Vermont to a world champion snowboarder, with nine X Games medals (seven of them gold), 26 World Cup wins, and an Olympic silver medal. She is considered the favorite for the gold in snowboard cross in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February.
“It’s all kind of surreal, you know?” she says, brushing back her long, curly locks, which, on this day, were brunette but most often are platinum-blonde. “I never really thought about making it to a certain level; it was always just about fun.”
Jacobellis is home from her part-time residence in Park City, Utah, where she trains with the U.S. Snowboarding Team, for one of her frequent trips to Roxbury to get her “family fix.” Her dogs, Gidget and Bear, follow her every move, lapping her face whenever possible.
“My brother, Ben, is five years older, and I ran hard to keep up with him,” she says, looking out the living-room window from the family’s modest three-bedroom home, across the five-acre property where she and her brother would play all day. “Ben wasn’t about to play dolls with me, so I knew if I wanted any kind of entertainment, it meant sports and action.” They’d play baseball, badminton, football; climb rickety apple trees and 50-foot pines. They built forts, trails for mountain biking in the woods, and long luges in the snow for sledding. They swung upside-down from a giant rope swing and did crazy, twisting flips into the pool and on their trampoline. “There was a horse field down that way,” she says, “and we would jump on, bareback, and ride wild on these random horses.”
There was a “no electronics/no TV” rule in the house that undoubtedly fueled the kids’ athleticism. “It started when Ben was in kindergarten, and he missed the bus because he couldn’t pull himself away from the cartoons,” says their mother, Anita Jacobellis, a former teacher who now works for the family’s electronic-security firm. “I said, ‘That’s it: No more TV during the week.’”
Most weekends were spent at Stratton, skiing—until Ben took up snowboarding one day in the mid 1990s. “He was a natural,” says Lindsey. “He never took a lesson,” but won several X Games and World Cup medals. Inspired by her brother, Lindsey swapped her skis for a snowboard; and “next thing I knew, I was winning these races. It was a blast.”
Her specialty is snowboard cross, also known as boarder cross, in which a group of four or six riders start atop a steep, curving course, catch big air, sometimes crash, and even collide into each other. “It’s just a rush; the speed, the adrenalin,” she says. “I was hooked from the start.”
After attending Booth Free School in Roxbury and Shepaug Valley Middle School in Washington, Jacobellis was recruited for high school by the Stratton Mountain School, which combines academics with vigorous snowboard training.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I owe everything to my parents for sacrificing so much,” Lindsey says. To show her appreciation, she used some of her endorsement and prize money to remodel an outdated bathroom in the house, and she also built an impressive stonewall running the length of the property.
Lindsey’s determination has seen her through some serious setbacks, starting with the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. She was leading the pack by a huge margin, but after a celebratory grab of her board mid-air, she landed wrong and fell just before the finish line. The win went to a Swiss athlete, while Lindsey settled for the silver medal.
Then in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, she was disqualified from the finals when a near-collision forced her off course, though she still placed fifth overall.
She handled it all with dignity, but then came a big blow in January 2012 when she tore her ACL in Aspen. After surgery and ten months of physical therapy, she started snowboarding again, but the pain persisted. The ACL repair didn’t take, and she had to have another surgery last December.
“Thankfully, she’s feeling great,” says her coach, Peter Foley, head of the U.S. Snowboarding Team, who had just gotten back from two months of training with Lindsey and the team in New Zealand.
The U.S. Olympic team won’t be announced until January, but Jacobellis is “100-percent guaranteed” to make the cut, Foley says. “You couldn’t hope to work with a better athlete. She’s insanely talented. She works super-hard. She’s as good as it gets.”