Cheever is ultimate blue-collar snowboarder

Story by Lynn DeBruin
The Associated Press
February 10, 2012
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PARK CITY — As a World Cup snowboardcross racer, Jonathan Cheever has taken his share of spills over the years.

Yet none compare to what dumped out of a pipe he broke while moonlighting as a plumber a year and a half ago.

"I ended up wearing probably 15 pounds of rotting animal fat," Cheever said of remodeling a restaurant with his father back in Massachusetts. "It’s the worst smell you can imagine."

While Cheever looks forward to the day he no longer has to turn a wrench to help pay the bills, that’s still the reality for the reigning national champion, who is set to defend his title this weekend on his home mountain at The Canyons Resort in Park City.

The top 32 men from Friday’s qualifying runs in the U.S. Grand Prix will compete in Sunday’s finals for a $10,000 first-place check.

The Grand Prix jumpstarted Cheever’s season a year ago, as he went on to win World Cup silver twice and finish No. 3 overall in the world.

He’s hoping for the same this year after mixed results so far — four top-10 World Cup finishes but no podiums.

"If I don’t have a podium soon, it looks like I’m going to be doing more (plumbing) because my back’s to the wall as far as my finances go," said Cheever, 26. "I’m relying on prize money right now, but it’s tough to complain about snowboarding. It could make me broke, but I’d still rather be doing it than putting in toilets. If I have to turn wrenches once in a while, it’s still not bad."

Most people in Park City already know Cheever’s blue-collar work ethic.

He’s installed hot water heaters, and fixed garbage disposals and toilets for friends and businesses around town. He helped remodel bathrooms at the condo complex where the Austrian team is staying for this weekend’s event.

He’s even left his mark on the Cabriolet lift that shuttles skiers and riders from the parking lots to the resort, having prepped and painted many of the open-air buckets in the fall of 2010.

Cheever, who grew up in Boston but has made Park City home since 2004, figures he isn’t even close to his prime as a snowboardcross athlete.

Considering he’ll be racing in front of family and friends, and sleeping in his own bed for a few days, he has to be one of the favorites again this weekend. The others include Nate Holland, Nick Baumgartner, Jayson Hale and a handful of top 20 international competitors.

The course is a bit different this year, with a nasty hip turn that has racers flying 80 feet through the air. Of course, not many got a chance to take too many test runs considering most were making their way back from a World Cup event Wednesday in Canada and are still battling fatigue.

Cheever wasn’t happy with his ninth-place finish in Canada but was glad to be healthy enough to compete in Park City.

Hale certainly isn’t healthy, what with a dislocated right shoulder suffered three days after he won Winter X bronze in late January. He pronounced himself ready nonetheless.

"I can still get out of the gate," said Hale of Sierraville, Calif. "Besides that, you don’t need arms to snowboard. I can get down the course just fine. I feel like I’m riding really well this season and want to keep it (rolling)."

For two-time Olympian Graham Watanabe, this is it.

After racing competitively since the mid-90s, and in snowboardcross since 2004, he is ready for another chapter in his life.

"It’s not that significant, honestly, because I’ve always kind of taken it in stride knowing this is a portion of my life; it’s not the only thing there is," said Watanabe, who in 2005 became the first American man ever to win a World Cup snowboardcross event. "I had a really good career. If something changes and I come back, so be it. But right now the plan is to be done after this race."

Some refuse to believe it. Yet Cheever applauds whatever decision Watanabe makes and was thankful the Idaho transplant scouted out the Canyons course and helped fine-tune it for the other riders this week.

Hearing Watanabe’s news, Cheever blurted out his own.

"I was actually thinking about announcing my retirement at this race; I’m going to retire from plumbing to concentrate 100 percent on snowboarding," Cheever quipped. "But I guess I have to have an extra two zeros in my bank account to do that."

Watanabe knows Cheever will keep striving no matter how many zeroes he faces.

"I’m his No. 1 fan for sure and he works harder on that kind of thing than anybody," Watanabe said. "It’s unfortunate that sports like ours require a fair amount of money to make it happen and a lot of people unfortunately drop out because of finances. But he’s pushed through and got the tenacity and the drive. It’s really impressive. I applaud everything he’s done."


Lynn DeBruin


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