Like many aspiring Olympic athletes, Sho Kashima has experienced his share of setbacks.
The worst one: Clearly a knee injury just prior to the key qualifying time period for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. That ranks right at the top for Kashima, who has skied at Heavenly Mountain resort in Lake Tahoe since his skis were nearly as tall as his childhood self.
A world-class moguls freestyle skier for the past seven years, Kashima suffered an ACL and meniscus injury to his left knee that ended his 2010 season, and more importantly, his Olympic hopes.
“It was very disappointing. It’s tough to sit on the sidelines and watch the events that I love to do,” said Kashima, who hadn’t secured a spot on the 2010 U.S. team, but had three events left on the schedule when he got hurt.
However, Kashima also says there was an upside to his situation.
“It taught me a lot about myself and it was a good learning experience for the future,” he said. “It also fueled the fire to work extremely hard in rehab and do it correctly.”
That rehab has led to Kashima being practically in the same situation he was four years ago — on the cusp of making the U.S. Olympic team in the moguls event.
This past week, Kashima was in Deer Valley ski resort in Utah, seeking more points at the World Cup event in his quest to earn the coveted Olympic berth. In two separate events, Kashima had a sixth and a 14th place finish at Dear Valley, and is now 10th in the World Cup mogul standings.
Kashima believed his Olympic breakthrough would occur in 2010. He enjoyed a career-best season in 2009 (eighth in World Cup rankings) and began the 2010 season looking strong with a pair of World Cup top-10 finishes.
However, a blown knee sustained while preparing for the Deer Valley World Cup in January ended his season early and put his Olympic dreams on hold.
More disappointment arrived two years ago. He was ranked third on the World Cup tour when another knee injury in 2012 put Kashima back on the rehab road. However, he rebounded last season.
Despite only five starts in 2013, Kashima had three top-10 results and earned both a second and a third-place finish at the U.S. National Championships at Heavenly. Performing so well in front of his hometown fans naturally made the accomplishment even sweeter to savor.
“Two podiums here at my home mountain is pretty incredible,” Kashima said after the event. “I didn’t have a full season coming back from injury and this is proof that when I trust my skiing good things will happen. To feel the support here from everyone I grew up with makes me want to pull out some good results for them, and I’m so happy I was able to do that twice for them.”
Kashima was born in West Texas and his life took a dramatic change when his father moved to South Lake Tahoe and took a job with Heavenly. Sho Kashima naturally started skiing early — on skis by age 4 — and quickly found his passion.
He grew up at Heavenly and idolized Jonny Moseley, who skied at Squaw Valley and was the 1998 Olympic gold medalist in moguls. Kashima was also inspired by other Tahoe legends like Travis Cabral (ninth at the 2006 Olympics), Travis Ramos and Chris Hernandez.
It didn’t hurt Kashima that his training ground was virtually his backyard — Heavenly’s famed Gunbarrel run, a straight shot down the mountain full of demanding, deep moguls.
“Gunbarrel is a challenging, long course,” Kashima said. “It is a world-class course, and I was lucky to be able to grow up and learn on one of the best venues in the world.”
For Kashima, the adrenaline of skiing moguls and doing aerial stunts is exhilarating. However, at age 28 he sees the curtain coming down soon on his skiing career. This will be his final shot at the Olympics.
“I wouldn’t be back after my injuries if I didn’t think I had a shot at making the team,” Kashima said. “I have a pretty good result so far in World Cup; I have three more events to improve and lock a spot on the roster.”
Kashima says that making the Olympic team is only the first part of his goal. “I want an Olympic medal.”
Although he hasn’t considered how it will feel if the Olympic berth eludes him, he does know where his future lies, and it won’t be on the slopes.
“I’m not 100-percent certain if I’ll ski past this year,” Kashima said. “I may do one more year at the very most. It’s time to get the rest of my life going, I’ve put that on hold for long enough. I may finish up my finance degree and continue what I’m doing in the market. I’ve been in the market for a few years; I would love to do some consulting or financial management.”
But right now the only thing he’s focused on managing is his ski career.
—Jeffrey Weidel can be reached at [email protected] Visit his winter website at www.tahoeskiworld.com