(Reuters) - If life was a snow-covered mountain, Australia’s Torah Bright would be the one plunging down the black runs and ploughing through the powder off-piste.
Never one to take the easy path, Bright may yet come up short in her bid to take part in all three snowboard events in Sochi but even attempting the audacious feat was indicative of her strong spirit of adventure.
Although she is third reserve for the snowboard cross, the 27-year-old will definitely defend her halfpipe Olympic title as well as compete in the new slopestyle event next month.
Bright broke through into the consciousness of most of her compatriots when she carried the Australian flag in the opening ceremony in Vancouver and picked herself up after a string of concussions in training to win halfpipe gold.
By the time she had become her country’s fourth Winter Olympic champion, though, Bright was already a star on the X Games circuit with sponsorship deals and earnings to match.
The Vancouver title pushed her into the elite of winter athletes who earn millions from their sport but it nearly did not happen at all after she spent two weeks sidelined with migraines.
“Pre-Olympics I was concussed, I didn’t know if I was going to compete, I spent more time off snow than on snow just sitting in a dark room and just kind of recovering,” she recalled last November.
Finally given the all-clear to compete, Bright crashed in her opening run to stand 11th but nailed her second attempt to set down a score none of her rivals was able to match.
“It felt really good on that one day that counted to be able to put down the run I wanted and for it to be the best on the day, it felt huge,” she added.
The two weeks of enforced inactivity also gave her a new perspective about herself and her approach to her sport.
“During that time I was able to relax and kind of ground myself,” she said.
”I got to the Games in a mental state where I was like, ‘yeah, snowboarding’, whether I win or not does not define who I am as a human being and it doesn’t define who I am as a snowboarder. It’s a contest, it’s just snowboarding.
“I learnt a lot about myself from that experience. If I can be relaxed and have fun, then I can get the most out of myself.”
Born in Cooma in the foothills of Australia’s Snowy Mountains, Bright followed her brother Ben and sister Rowena, a 2002 Winter Olympian in alpine skiing, onto the slopes as a toddler.
Bright says being the second youngest of five sporty children meant competition was second nature and that soon extended to snowboarding.
“We competed in everything swimming, soccer, tennis, netball, skiing everything,” she recalled.
“Competing is what I’ve done and what I know, so when I started snowboarding it was natural to do the local contests and continue competing.”
Bright impressed immediately in competition and quit school to turn professional by the time she was 14, making her Olympic debut two years later in Turin.
Her trip to Italy ended in disappointment, however, when she missed the podium by finishing fifth in the halfpipe in the midst of a row about the judging.
Her brother Ben has been her coach for most of her professional career and she credits him with constantly challenging her to set new standards, including mastering the switch McTwist 720 maneuver which sets her apart from most of her rivals.
“He was the one who made me see I could break through the boundaries that were placed on female snowboarders,” Bright said.
“He definitely instilled a belief in my ability that allowed me to be able to push myself on my snowboard and do the tricks I want to do.”
Bright now splits her time between Park City, Utah, a training base in New Zealand and her home country, where she can indulge her passion for riding a different kind of board in the Australian surf.
As a tee-total Mormon with a broad smile, Bright has often been presented as a paragon of virtue in a sport where rebelliousness is the norm.
When the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) announced rules restricting the use of social media, however, her reaction suggested her wholesome image might not be the complete picture.
“I’ll be breaking a few rules this time round!” she tweeted.
Going for all three snowboarding events was her coach Ben’s idea and Bright thinks just training for the different disciplines has made her a more complete athlete.
“I‘m challenging myself every single day that I‘m on the mountain, in ways that I haven’t been challenged in years, especially the mental aspect,” she said.
Editing by Julian Linden