By Chris Rotolo |
RUMSON — In a sport that tests the fortitude of its athletes with regularity, Rumson native Meghan Tierney, 21, is known to be fearless.
A competitor on the national and international stage since she was 10 years old – around the time she attended elementary schools in Rumson and Little Silver – Tierney’s Snowboard Cross event is one of high speeds, big risk and even bigger rewards.
Her aggressive tendencies on some of the toughest courses in the world recently helped land the local athlete — who relocated to Colorado at the age of 17 — a spot on Team USA for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But only 14 months ago Tierney’s Olympic hopes and career aspirations were in jeopardy.
“I’m not someone who likes to dwell on the past or look too far ahead into the future. I try to live in the moment the best I can, and focus on the task in front of me,” said Tierney, who faced the most challenging moment of her life in November 2016, when she crashed during a practice run at a training facility in Austria, shattering her L3 vertebra.
“This was a significant moment in her life, because it was the first time she was ever really dealing with this severe of an injury,” Meghan’s father Chris Tierney said. “I think it was a little traumatic for her, because not only did she have to work to get back physically, but mentally we could see that it had taken its toll on her a bit.”
“It was tough to get through that, because I felt like it was out of my control,” Meghan added. “I missed pretty much the entire season and I really didn’t know how long it was going to take to recover.”
Aside from her injury troubles, Tierney also had personal hurdles to clear, as the then Olympic-hopeful was processing the deteriorating health of her grandfather.
A longtime supporter of her snowboarding exploits, Tierney credits a conversation she had with her grandfather in his final days for setting her back on the path toward Pyeongchang.
“In that conversation he really helped put things in perspective and helped me realize that the reason I was able to accomplish all that I had in this sport is because I wasn’t really afraid of anything,” Tierney said. “I think I came into this season with a little bit of fear in my mind. But speaking with him, he helped me remember why I compete and who I am competing for.”
According to her father, Tierney was back in action far too soon for the severity of her injury, suiting up for the start off the 2017-18 season, resulting in finishes below her normal standards with a string of placements from 25th to 31st in her first four World Cup races.
With her Olympic dreams hanging in the balance, Tierney posted a 19th place finish at the second-to-last qualifying race, and carried a 26th world ranking into her final qualifying appearance in late January.
In desperate need of a special performance, Tierney provided one, racing to a seventh place showing and finishing as the top U.S. woman. It was an effort that secured her position with Team USA.
“Since I started snowboarding it was always a dream of mine to compete in the Olympics. But everyone will tell you, I was the worst snowboarder in my family,” said Tierney, whose older brother, Chris, and older sister, Makayla, also competed on the international circuit.
“The Olympic goal was there, but I wasn’t sure that I would ever get to that level,” she said. “And to be honest it really hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve spoken to a few of my teammates and they say it really doesn’t hit you until you step into that atmosphere. I’m really looking forward to that, because there is no greater honor in sports than to represent your country.”
When Tierney arrives at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, she won’t be the only local on the slopes donning the red, white and blue.
A.J. Muss, 24, another Rumson native, will compete as a member of the U.S. Men’s Snowboarding Team, and will pursue medals in both the parallel slalom and giant parallel slalom events.
When the Olympic Games begin on Feb. 9, there will be 240 U.S. athletes taking part, with Muss and Tierney standing as the only representatives from New Jersey.
This article was first published in the Feb. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times
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