During a 24-hour pit-stop in Boulder -- between Switzerland and Park City, Utah, -- Julia Marino spent a night at her college apartment, caught up with friends over breakfast and spoke about her journey to Sochi to compete as an Olympic athlete.
Marino is a CU student and Paraguay’s first Olympic athlete to compete in the winter games. A slopestyle skier, she was born in Paraguay and raised by her adoptive parents in Winchester, Mass.
“I’ve been with the sport through its whole progression,” said Marino. “At 13-14, I never believed it would be in the Olympics -- then it came to the Nationals, the World Cup -- then it was like, whoa, this is getting big. This is something I can invest in.”
In addition to Paraguay’s winter debut, the Olympics in Sochi will introduce slopestyle as a competing event – a type of skiing with obstacles like rails and jumps for doing flips in the air. Until now, slopestyle has only been in the ESPN X Games, Breckenridge’s Dew Tour, national freeskier competitions and more recently, FIS World Cup events. Marino has been part of the slopestyle community as the sport developed over the past decade, and her choice to represent Paraguay has attracted media attention from all corners of the Americas.
Last March, Marino competed for slopestyle in the FIS World Cup in Sierra Nevada, Spain, where she took second place for the United States. This victory, along with a very successful year, placed her in a spot for women’s slopestyle on the U.S. Olympic team. When Marino knew she had a shot at going to the Olympics, she started to consider her dual citizenship as a native Paraguayan.
Searching Google for winter athletes representing Paraguay, she discovered there were none to date. Growing up, Marino’s parents attempted to make her heritage something that she and her brother, who was also adopted from Paraguay, recognized as special and part of their identity.
“It took a couple of months to really think, talking with my coach, what’s the right decision for me? Is this easier? Is this cheating myself? Is this what I want?” Marino said, anticipating how hard it was already to receive her points as a U.S. Olympic candidate – and how hard it would be to keep them for Paraguay.
After “hundreds” of conversations with friends, family and skiers, Marino considered her Paraguay-born heritage an opportunity of a lifetime. Not only did she have the chance to return to Paraguay for the first time since she was adopted at 6 months old, but she had the chance to do something special for a culture that’s meant so much to her growing up.
“It all worked out well. I couldn’t be happier with my leaving the U.S. team, because some of my best friends are going to make that team,” added Marino. “And the coaches are all so supportive.”
Last summer, Marino began taking the necessary steps to solve every bureaucratic challenge involved with switching teams. After months of back-and-forth emails, Skype and phone calls at all hours of the day, Marino finally got to meet the Olympic Board in Paraguay, which had changed from the folks she spent months communicating with.
CU has allowed Marino to pursue a lifestyle that teams professional athlete with full-time student. At 21-years-old, Marino is just one year shy from graduating with a degree in psychology. One way CU has made it all possible is through its diverse curricula offered during summer sessions and online, she said.
“I’m really not that behind right now,” said Marino. “I think CU is great… how the summer courses are run here and how there’s a ton of people here in the summer.” Typically, Marino takes on a full schedule each summer and fall, then focuses on skiing during the winter. Though she did take the fall semester off this year to prepare for the Olympics, she stayed connected to her studies through online classes.
“This fall I took two online courses just to, you know, stay engaged,” said Marino. “I just started one more and will finish after the Olympics, before Maymester starts.”
When Marino injured her ACL in 2009, just as her momentum in slopestyle was rising, she spent an entire season regaining confidence and strength. The experience sparked her interest in sport psychology, bearing in mind how challenging it was to overcome the injury psychologically, she said. Just this past fall, Marino broke her collarbone in Switzerland, but underwent surgery there and is more than ready to stay in the game.
“I always had that competitive mindset,” said Marino. “I think being involved in team sports has also led to a lot of success.” Up until high school, Marino played soccer competitively and dreamed of playing for a Division 1 team. But after competing in her first Junior National’s competition for freeskiing, Marino went home with a gold. Shortly after, she knew slopestyle was bound to stick.
Marino looks forward to the sport’s debut. “I’m excited for the competition because it’s the first time slopestyle skiing will be exposed to the world, and it will have a good TV slot time. I just think people are going to be very impressed with what people do.”