It took only one trip to the Hyland ski area for Eden Prairie native Alicia Tong to unlock her potential as a world-class competitive snowboarder.
Her first outing was just over three years ago, and in that short time, Tong has participated in more than 29 competitions across the country, brought home 24 medals, learned alongside the pros, and last year, ranked 76 among the top 100 women snowboarders in the world.
It hasn’t always been easy, but the determination and passion of this 17-year-old high school student is putting her on the path to be an Olympian.
After being invited to go snowboarding in eighth grade, Tong agreed, thinking “How hard could it be?” She quickly learned it wasn’t that easy, but she was hooked. Though she had her share of falls, Tong was a natural, and her ability caught the attention of a coach from the G-Team, the Midwest’s premier snowboarding team. Tong was asked to try out for the team, which started her on a journey she never expected.
Practicing in all six snowboarding disciplines, including slalom, grand slalom, half pipe, slope style, boarder cross and rail jam, Tong made it to the 2012 United States of America Snowboarding Association Snowboard National Championships during her first year competing. She placed sixth overall and first in her region. As she improved, her success continued and her coaches believed she would go far, but a trip to Colorado almost brought Tong’s dreams to an end.
While tackling a challenging run, Tong remembers her team cheering her on. “But then the shouting changed to sounds of concern,” she says. She wasn’t going to land the jump as planned and instead crashed down hard on her left arm, breaking her humerus in two. Traveling down the mountain with the rescue team was excruciating, and she was flown back to Minnesota for surgery. She left the hospital with a titanium rod in her arm and hopes that she would someday be back on a board.
The road to recovery was long, but Tong’s determination remained strong. After nine months, she was cleared by her physical therapist and doctor to snowboard again, just days before leaving for summer training at the Camp of Champions in Whistler, British Columbia.
There, Tong made a huge comeback and not only surprised her coach with her ability, but rode alongside Canadian Olympian Jenna Blasman and American gold medalist Jamie Anderson, proving she was not going to let her injury slow her down. Recognizing her potential, Tong was asked to return to Whistler, where she continued her training for the 2013-14 season.
Leaving Minnesota meant leaving her high school, but Tong didn’t jeopardize her education and instead enrolled in MTS Minnesota Connections Academy, a full-time K-12 online public school known for its rigorous academic program. “Through the flexible schedule, Alicia is progressing nicely in her education, while pursuing her passion,” says Robby Erlich, the school’s counselor.
As she finishes up her last year of high school, Tong has made her way back home to join the Pro Am G-Team. She also has a new coach in Tyler Anderson, a Chanhassen native and professional snowboarder, who taught at Vail Academy for the past seven years before returning to Minnesota to coach. Anderson sees the potential in Tong as well and looks forward to preparing her for competition this year and wherever that may lead her next. “She’s with a great team here in Minnesota and she has the potential and the passion to really make it,” says Anderson.
Tong will compete in the U.S. Rev Tour, and compete to earn a spot at Nationals this year. She is determined and passionate, and when asked about her motivation for keeping her dream alive, she says it’s wanting girls “to know that they don’t have to be the best, but never give up. Keep persevering and you can achieve your dream.”