Friday, February 21, 2014

A homecoming for the Golden Girl

Kaitlyn Farrington to return to valley after winning Olympic gold

Express Staff Writer

Gary Farrington takes a break in the south valley Wednesday with Milo, his daughter Kaitlyn Farrington’s 9-year-old Bassett hound. Photo by Willy Cook

     Bellevue native Kaitlyn Farrington will get a hero’s welcome when she arrives in the Wood River Valley on Monday after winning an Olympic gold medal in the women’s halfpipe snowboarding competition in Sochi, Russia.

     She will return to her hometown after having some laughs on national television Wednesday on the “Late Show with David Letterman,”, and then taking a turn on the morning show “Live with Kelly and Michael.”

     Letterman asked Farrington if she plans to continue competing on a snowboard.

     “I have nothing else to do right now, so I don’t know why I wouldn’t keep riding,” she said.          

     Farrington, 24, left New York City mid-week for Chicago, where she provided some celebrity inspiration at a meeting of major Olympic donors. Then, on Sunday, she is scheduled to attend the Daytona 500 stock-car race in Florida, where she will play the role of the “Cheez-It Girl,” helping to advertise the popular snack crackers.

     She is scheduled to arrive at 12:31 p.m. Monday at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, where a welcome celebration is planned.

     Despite the media frenzy, Farrington’s father, Gary Farrington, on Wednesday told the Idaho Mountain Express that he has no doubt his daughter will keep her feet on the ground. He had returned to the valley after traveling to see Kaitlyn compete in Sochi.

     “She handles everything so well. I am proud of her in a lot of ways,” he said. “She has always been a kick and a lot of fun.”    

     Kaitlyn Farrington’s comments after winning the gold medal on Feb. 12 were quickly broadcast around the world.

     “I am going to dance my face off,” she said.

     Her father said that is exactly what Kaitlyn did at the Park Inn in Krasnaya Polyana the night after the final competition.

     “After we quit and went to bed at 3:30 a.m., she went out dancing,” he said.

     Gary Farrington and Kaitlyn’s mother, Suz Locke, divorced when Kaitlyn was 7 years old, but came together to support their youngest daughter as she approached the highest levels of competition.

     “When we saw her put on the Olympic jacket on the stage at Mammoth Mountain (Calif.), Suz and I were smiling and hugging. I heard that Kaitlyn told someone later that this was the first time she remembers ever seeing us hugging,” he said.

Kaitlyn Farrington celebrates winning her gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games last week in Sochi, Russia.
Courtesy photo

     The two parents have been getting to know one another again in light of their daughter’s success, he said.

     “Suz and I have talked more in the last 15 days than we have in the previous 15 years,” he said.

     The hometown celebrations for Kaitlyn Farrington will take place throughout the Wood River Valley. Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch said her hometown City Council will present her with a key to the city and also has plans to name a section of the bike path running through town after her. A welcome banner is flying over Main Street in Bellevue, while red, white and blue ribbons will be on the light poles.

     “We have all kinds of thing in the works,” Koch said. “We are working with the other cities, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and the Sun Valley Co. for the big celebration. I have talked with the chamber of commerce about making her the grand marshal of the Labor Day Parade.”

     On Saturday, March 1, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation will throw a party—likely in Ketchum—to honor Farrington. Details were not available by press time Thursday.

     Gary Farrington said his daughter was enrolled in SVSEF programs from fifth grade until she was 19 years old. The organization provided coaching and funding for what became an increasingly expensive enterprise. He sold cows from his ranch to pay for some of the bills, but also relied on the SVSEF’s list of generous donors to cover travel expenses he could not afford.

     “The better she got at snowboarding, the further she needed to travel to her to competitions. The SVSEF has been incredible to us all of these years,” he said.

     Gary Farrington said the trip from Bellevue to the Olympic podium in Sochi was not an easy one for his daughter, even when judged by the standards of a cowgirl who used to participate in rodeo events on weekends in Shoshone with her sister, Jessalyn Scheinberg, now 29.

     “She has had five wrist surgeries and three knee surgeries along the way,” he said.

     The Olympian’s father praised SVSEF coaches Andy Gilbert, Billy Olson, John French and others, for providing the training and inspiration that got his daughter to the Olympics.

     “Andy Gilbert was with her four days a week through high school. I think he had a lot to do with her development as a woman,” he said.

     Farrington said he was prepared to sell his horse trailer to pay his way to Sochi to watch his daughter compete.

     “It would have gotten me there, but probably not back,” he said.

     But in typical Wood River Valley style, the community came together to help them make ends meet. Local supporters passed the hat for donations, collecting enough money to send both of Farrington’s parents to Russia.

     “They put a jar out at my mom’s work and collected $14,000,” Kaitlyn told David Letterman Wednesday night.      

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