I knew I wanted to be an athlete. Like many kids, I wanted to be the best at whatever I was doing—in my mind, playing soccer, I was the next Freddie Adu; shooting hoops, I was the next Allen Iverson; swimming, Michael Phelps. When I started ski racing, I imagined myself atop the Olympic podium, clutching gold in one hand and a long pair of downhill skis in the other, hat emblazoned with sponsor logos. Just like other kids, I believed I could excel in any sport I tried.
The stereotype of “Black people don’t swim” didn’t apply to me, but that doesn’t mean I was unaware of the different ethnic landscapes of the sports I played. At basketball and tee-ball camps, black, brown, and white faces surrounded me. Soccer? Less so and, with swimming, I was one of a few Black kids in the whole division. But skiing was the only sport where I wasn’t just the only Black kid on my team—I never even competed against another Black skier.
There’s some racer style in there somewhere.
At the time, I didn’t understand the side effects of participating in these less diverse sports. When I saw the scarcity of black and brown skin on the slopes, it didn’t turn me off; I simply set my sights even higher: “I want to be the first Black American skier to compete in the Olympics for alpine racing.” I didn’t realize what this would mean for me personally, and I pushed harder to bring my vision to life. Between ages 10 and 13, I won regularly and even ranked in the Tahoe Region.
At 13, I decided to go to school in Tahoe, in order to more seriously pursue racing. It was a head-first dive into the deep end—boundless snow-capped mountains, eight ski areas within 50 miles, skiing right out my back door, and white folks…everywhere.
I skied, lived, and learned almost exclusively from white people. Immersed in ski racing culture, I never felt truly comfortable or confident, always a bit on edge. I never stopped asking myself, “Should I be here? Why am I the only one? Are Black people supposed to do this? Do I want to do this?”