Utah teen's shining Olympic moment a family high
West Vancouver, British Columbia » Still wearing her helmet and goggles, 17-year-old Faye Gulini gazed into the crowd on Tuesday.
Seeing, finally, her family members and friends in the eighth row, she climbed into the stands. She hugged and high-fived.
"It's unbelievable, is all I can say," said her father, Dave, his eyes welling.
Gulini had been eliminated from the Olympic women's snowboardcross event, but she smiled broadly after an extended embrace with her dad. He raised her after their mother and wife, the woman who used to carry her youngest child in a backpack on the Snowbird slopes as an infant, died in an auto accident in 1997. Faye, who was 5, survived.
The emotions of the Olympics and the shared experiences do not always come in the Michael Phelps-style victory celebrations. For Gulini, just advancing to the quarterfinals of the snowboarding event and competing at this level, with her father, grandmother, three of her four siblings and a nephew watching at Cypress Mountain was enough.
Eight years after skating as a "Child of Light" in the Opening Ceremony of her hometown Games in Salt Lake City, she herself was an Olympian.
"I'm happy," Gulini said after finishing a strong third among four snowboarders (two advanced) in the quarterfinals. "Getting this far is more than anyone expected, so there's not a ton of pressure."
Her father also was thrilled, if slightly drained after vicariously taking three runs. Holding a "Go Faye" sign, he bent his knees and alternately cringed and exulted with his daughter's every movement, as she descended a course with jumps and banked turns.
Between runs, he described the family experience as "tear-jerking," and the words became unnecessary to convey that thought.
The Gulinis' reunion in West Vancouver is "kind of hectic, having us all in one place," Faye Gulini said, smiling. "We still fight, like we were little."
They're actually supportive of their baby sister's career. "She's only going to get better," said her sister Erin.
That attitude reflects their mother's nature. In a tribute, Pat Gulini was described as "very involved in all her children's very active lives; her family was her life."
Following her three brothers and a sister into skiing and then snowboarding, Gulini was like any child who dreamed of the Olympics, especially after her 2002 experience. "I always wanted to go, but I never thought it was realistic," she said. "Now that I'm here, it's crazy."
Gulini's rise to the Olympics was boosted by her move after ninth grade from Cottonwood Heights to a new Vail, Colo., program that enabled her to train and still attend public school in a specialized setting for athletes. Her father persuaded an old high school friend to house her, wryly asking, "How would you feel about a daughter?"
So while he makes a point of saying Faye is still a Salt Lake City girl, she spends the school year in Vail. Traveling to World Cup events and the Olympics, she keeps up with courses such as AP Chemistry and Spanish III online and plans to graduate this spring.
After only two years in snowboardcross, she has developed a talent for the event that resembles a NASCAR race on snow, with individual qualifying and then four-person eliminations. Even at 17, she blends in easily with teammates and competitors. As they waited out a fog delay in the morning, Gulini and American star Lindsey Jacobellis were seen dancing at the top of the course.
"Lindsey loves Shakira," Gulini explained. "She knows all the dances. She teaches me. Of course, I'm not near as good."
On the slopes, Gulini shows every sign of becoming an international success. By the next Olympics in 2014, she will be 21. As of Tuesday afternoon, when the sun finally broke through the fog, she was still a teenage girl who just wanted to hug her father for helping her reach this point in her life, amid the most trying of circumstances.
"No one could do what my dad does," she said. "That's all I can say."