Meet the Winter Olympian who is a real Corker

Meet the Winter Olympian who is a real Corker
Brendan Newby of Ireland in action during a training session. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

WHEN they lived in Ballincollig for two years in the mid-90s they immersed themselves in local life and delightedly recall singing with the Coláiste Choilm choir in St Finbarr's Cathedral.

“We loved Ireland, really wanted to stay a third year and UCC were helping us to organise that but then my mother became seriously ill so we returned to Utah to care for her,” Bethanie Newby explains.

She teaches anthropology so can appreciate the unusual circumstances that have led the Newbys' son to represent Ireland at the 23rd Winter Olympics in PyeongChang next week.

“I had finished my PhD in economics at Boston College, was looking for work and ran into someone who knew something about this visiting two-year professor position at UCC,” her husband Van explains.

They already loved a place called 'Peak's Island' in Maine where they'd escape “the madness of the city for weekends” and people always told them it was like Ireland in both scenery and vibe.

So when Van got job offers from Cork and Singapore and Saudia Arabia in 1995 there was only one winner.

They already had boys, aged four and two, and when their third was born in Erinville in September 1996 they gave him a strong Irish name.

“Brendan Conor. We chose Brendan after St Brendan the Navigator. We wanted someone with an adventurous spirit,” Bethanie explains.

“We certainly got one!” they chime in unison, bursting into laughter.

Brendan, or 'Bubba' as he's known, was just a year old when they left Cork and is now a 21-year-old freestyle skier with a mane of blonde hair to his shoulders.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

He grew up in an academic house where keeping his grades up was always demanded and achieved but, right now, he's fully immersed in freestyle skiing, especially the half-pipe, an event he describes as “a rollercoaster on skis!” Half-pipe sking was joined the Winter Olympics four years ago and involves a series of tricks and spins down a terrifying U-tube of solid ice with 22-foot walls.

That's appropriate as Bubba used YouTube to learn at the start.

The Newbys live not far from Park City, Utah, a US snowsport Mecca, and even when he was just four Bubba would beg for skiing books every time they took him to the library.

Then he discovered video footage and would wear his skis and ape the moves while endlessly watching them on a loop in their living room.

He made himself a rail, out of sprinkler pipe, in their back garden and “skied off our roof once, very dangerous!” chuckles Van, recalling that when he once clocked 70mph on a ski-gun, Bubba, still only 14, promptly outdid him with 72.

Eventually they found him a club and now his sporting obsession has led to the pinnacle of sport.

The only other thing he loves more in life is his beloved dog, a Newbie-Lab cross called Koda.

Bubba's already good enough to compete in skiing's 'Premiership' - the World Cup circuit - where he bagged a 12th in China before Christmas and 23rd in Mammoth (USA) after wards. He finished 25th in last year's World Championships.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

He may look and sound like the stereotypical ski-bum but Newby trains extremely hard and also works two jobs – in a ski shop in the mornings and coaching kids on flood-lit night slopes – to pursue his passion.

“He always said from the very start that he was going to be in the Olympics and we always said 'OK. that's great!' because that's what you say to your kids, right, when they say 'I wanna be an astronaut or the President'? Bethanie laughs.

“We have to hand it to him because he's the one who initiated all of this. He kept pushing and pushing.

“We absolutely loved our time in Ireland and I've been back a few times for weddings,” she says.“It feels very natural for Brendan to represent it. From the start he had a connection with Ireland and his Irishness has been so much fun for us all.” 

Half-pipe, whether on skis or a snowboard, is a dangerous sport and athletes have a short shelf-life. Bubba suffered one bad concussion in the past and had a heavy fall on his hip as he desperately chased and bagged the last of the 30 Olympic qualification spots right at the 11th hour.

“Believe it or not, as he's become better he's learned how to fall better too,” Bethanie explains.

“Yes the tricks are more and more dangerous and he could get hurt any time but we've watched him for so many years it's no different.

“Each run is over in less than 45 seconds and it's hard not to hold your breath but you're waiting there to hear “and now... Brendan Newby's dropping into the pipe!' and that gets us going.That's pretty exciting!”

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“I’m not out there just throwing myself around, there's so much training that goes into it,” Bubba stresses.

“Yeah, there’s a ton of adrenaline and the feeling you get when you land a new trick is insane but I’m not there to do new stuff for myself. I'm there to push my skiing to a new level.

“I've wanted this my whole life so I can't believe I made it happen and to be Ireland's first ever half-pipe skier is pretty crazy,” he enthuses.

“It’s funny too 'cause one of the biggest tricks in freestyle sking is called a Cork. We’re a bunch of Corkers!”

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