New Canaan's Half-Pipe Kid
New Canaan 8-year-old has Olympic aspirations
Updated 4:16 pm, Wednesday, March 18, 2015
At the beginning of last ski season, Sumner Orr decided to put down his skis and focus on the snowboard -- but first he had to ask his parents. He was 7 at the time.
Now, a year later, the New Canaan third-grader travels almost every week to Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vt., or to other Vermont slopes, to compete against other aspiring snowboarders.
"I'm focusing all my energy on snowboarding," the 8-year-old said. "I love skiing and snowboarding, but snowboarding is just more fun."
What began as a decision to honor their youngest child's preference on their weekly ski trips has become a calendar full of competitions as the East School student is setting his sights on the challenge of becoming an elite athlete.
Later this month, with just a little more than a year of snowboarding under his belt, Orr will join other members of Okemo Mountain School's snowboard team to compete at the 2015 United States of America Snowboard and Free Ski Association Nationals, taking place between March 28 and April 3 at the Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado.
"I'm not sure what level I'm going to get to," Sumner said. "But if I keep getting better, I'd like to be at the Olympics."
Perhaps most impressive about Sumner's progress is that Vermont's winter sports pedigree makes the scoring and competition to make the Okemo team perhaps the fiercest in the nation, his mother, Michelle Orr, said.
"Why I am so impressed with him is that he has just seemed to pick this sport up," she said. "He's just found a love for being on the mountain -- but I can't think of a reason."
Sumner began skiing at the age of 4, part of a family tradition of hitting the slopes young that his parents provided for him and his two older brothers, Caleb and Liam.
From the time Sumner could walk, he displayed coordination beyond his years, climbing everything in sight in the house before progressing to trees, Michelle Orr said. As an outlet, the family installed a playset in their house allowing him to swing, she said.
"He's been a highly capable child since he started walking in terms of doing things beyond what he should be able to do," Michelle Orr said. "He has always been pretty physical."
When Sumner was about 5, his father, Shawn Orr, watched Sumner ski downhill without poles while managing jumps and other adventurous tricks.
"I remember thinking how effortlessly he did it," Shawn Orr said. "When he wanted to snowboard, and I saw him snowboard, I said, `Yes, definitely. He should do this.' "
Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2014, Sumner broke his right wrist while jumping off a corrugated pipe at Okemo Mountain. Despite the setback, and with the assurances of doctors, the Orrs let Sumner get back on the slopes in three weeks and began competing again wearing a special protective cast.
As a parent, Michelle Orr said she is taking a "wait and see" approach to when and if the family will take the next step to nurture Sumner's tutelage in snowboarding.
Michelle and Shawn Orr said how far the family goes to support his passion will depend on whether Sumner continues to love the sport.
"I take the challenge as it is coming," Michelle Orr said. "I never thought he would make the nationals, but we're going in two weeks."
A possible next step would be an academic program at Okemo Mountain School, beginning when kids are 10 or 11, that runs from November through March. The program coordinates the athlete's curriculum with local school districts so students can, hopefully, move without difficulty from practicing at Okemo back to their schools in the spring.
"That is a huge decision," Michelle Orr said. "He says he wants to go to the Olympics one day, and Shawn and I will do as much as we can."
While Sumner's favorite competition is the half-pipe because of the speed and coordination involved, he feels he is best right now at boarder cross, a competition involving four or more snowboarders racing down a narrow slope and negotiating various curves, jumps, and drops to finish first.
"There are banks and drops you have to go off, and little jumps that make you go faster," Sumner said.
When he's not practicing snowboarding or doing schoolwork, Sumner said he relaxes by watching television shows such as "Mythbusters" and playing with his five cats, Nala, Sneakers, Jinx, Pickles and Thaka.
And as for his snowboarding?
"It's scary but it's really fun, and I enjoy the thrill of learning new tricks," Sumner said. "My goal is to get better."