For Idaho's Kaitlyn Farrington, it's '100% fun'

A Wood River celebration after her Olympic gold in halfpipe gives her smile such a workout her 'cheeks hurt'

ccripe@idahostatesman.com © 2014 Idaho StatesmanFebruary 25, 2014 

  • FARRINGTON QUIPS

    Kaitlyn Farrington drew many laughs during her press conference Monday. Here are a few highlights:

    • On her underdog role: "I've always been the underdog, I feel, going into all the contests, but people do know I can break out. … Now people know that I'm a threat to be reckoned with."

    • On where she hopes a gold medal will take her: "I hope it takes me to the beach. I'm kind of sick of winter. Maybe I'll actually enjoy a summer."

    • On her highlights since winning: "(Actor) Zac Efron followed me on Twitter. That was something."

    • On the media attention: "It's been amazing to tell my story because nobody's cared until now. I get to walk around pretty much doing interviews and telling people how awesome I am. It's just crazy. You can come from nothing and be at the top - it's just inspiring, I feel like, to younger kids and families."

    • On having her parents in Russia: "My joke is I can't imagine making that phone call: 'Hey Mom and Dad, guess what I did today?' "

    • On whether she'll be on a Wheaties box: "I recently got Cheez-It as a sponsor, and it's up for discussion if I'll be on a Cheez-It box."

  • KAITLYN'S WAY?

    Sun Valley will name a run after Kaitlyn Farrington at Saturday's party. She gets to choose the name out of suggestions provided by children.

    The leading contender: "Kaitlyn's Way."

    It's how she's lived her life - and conducted her snowboard career. She left the U.S. snowboard team two years ago to work with her own coaches.

    "Because I do things the way I want to do them," she said.

    Chadd Cripe: 377-6398

KETCHUM - Idaho gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington laughed, smiled and charmed her way through 4 1/2 hours of welcome-home festivities Monday afternoon.

Just as you'd expect from the 24-year-old snowboarder who signs her autographs with the tagline, "100% fun."

"It's just me, but this is a happy time," Farrington said of the perma-smile that greeted friends, family, children, proud neighbors and media as she traveled through the streets of three towns. "My cheeks hurt."

Farrington won the gold medal in women's snowboard halfpipe Feb. 12 at the Sochi Olympics. She spent last week bouncing between media appearances in New York City, including appearances on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and "LIVE with Kelly and Michael."

She also served as an honorary race official for the Daytona 500 on Sunday in Florida, riding in an official car during the pace laps.

Finally, she headed home Monday for the first time since Christmas, landing at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey about noon. She showed the medal hanging around her neck to the pilots as she exited the plane to the bang of a drum corps and cheers from the Sun Valley girls snowboard team on the tarmac.

More well-wishers awaited as she entered the terminal — a throng that prompted her to wipe away tears. The mayor of Hailey presented her with a key to the city on a necklace, and the mayor of Bellevue promised a block party in calmer times and a key to his city, too.

"This is the first time I've cried," Farrington said. "Everyone said, 'It's gonna happen, Kaitlyn, it's gonna happen.' Going into the airport, having everyone there who supported me through the years, it was just an amazing feeling."

Farrington grew up in Bellevue and learned to ski (started at 3) and snowboard (11) at Sun Valley Resort. She joined the snowboard team at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation on scholarship and the local community raised money on short notice to send her parents, Gary Farrington and Suz Locke, to Sochi.

Without the support, Farrington's parents likely would have stayed home.

"We would have tried to (go), but it would have been devastating to both of us," Locke said. "Gary's a cowboy, and I'm a waitress and it's like a $20,000 trip to go to Russia for the Olympics."

She signed personalized autographs for the kids, posed for photos, greeted everyone she could with a hug or a handshake and even shared her gold medal.

"They can touch it," she said of people who inquire. "Lots of people already have. People say, 'Bite your medal.' I don't want to — so many people have touched it already."

And many more will.

Farrington travels with the medal in her pocket or her backpack — she can't get anywhere if she wears it — and doesn't have any plans to stow it in a safe or mount it on a wall.

"I'm probably going to carry it around in my pocket for the next month and milk it as much as I can, and then I'll go from there," she said.

She soaked in Monday's festivities from the back of a silver 1966 Ford Mustang GT convertible, which she rode through Bellevue to begin the parade, and the top of a Wood River Fire & Rescue ladder truck, which carried her from the southern end of Hailey to the Warm Springs base of Bald Mountain in Ketchum.

"It was amazing," she said of the fire truck. "It was my chariot. It was so fun. … To see all the little kids lining the streets where I grew up and used to drive through every single day to get up to the mountain — it was just awesome to feel the support of the community."

Her parents rode in the firetruck, too — though not on top. "We had no idea it was going to turn into this," Locke said.

Future Kaitlyns were a key part of the celebration.

Schoolchildren were brought out to line the streets of Bellevue and Hailey, holding signs, waving flags and shouting "Kaitlyn! Kaitlyn!" and "USA! USA!"

Girls from the Sun Valley snowboard team were among the first to greet her when she walked off the plane, stationed on the tarmac with a sign that read, "Welcome home Kaitlyn. We love you."

Team member Payton Bacca, 12, of Sun Valley, watched Farrington's Olympic performance live online in the middle of the night.

"It was so inspirational," Bacca said. " … It tells you that a little girl from a small town can win a gold medal at the Olympics."

Farrington looks forward to serving as a role model to the girls of the Wood River Valley, she said. Already, she rides with the snowboard team when she comes home each Christmas.

"Knowing her from the past and now knowing that she won the gold medal is pretty rad," Cora Kaiser, 14, of Ketchum, said.

Farrington's role model growing up was Barrett Christy, a women's snowboarding pioneer. Christy now works for Gnu, which is Farrington's snowboard sponsor.

She plans to stay in the Sun Valley area until Sunday. There's a party Saturday at the Warm Springs Lodge (festivities begin at 2:30 p.m.; ceremony at 4 p.m.).

Until then, she plans to ride — she hasn't been on a snowboard since her winning halfpipe run. In addition to the locals, Farrington will be joined by some friends and U.S. team members from Utah and Colorado, Gary said.

"We're all going to ski and ride and have some fun," he said.

Farrington will compete next at the US Open March 3-8 in Vail, Colo.

Then the Salt Lake City resident will begin to plot her future. She plans to chase another Olympic spot in 2018 and continue to search for new tricks to add to snowboarding's ever-expanding repertoire.

"I want to keep improving," she said. "I know that I have a lot left in me that I can do. … Right now I'm going to enjoy this (gold medal) and hopefully I'll bring home another one some day."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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