The Bounce-Back Kid

Professional snowboarder Chris Klug carves his way back to the top of the mountain.

Snowboard racing had changed, too. Since Chris's first Burton Performer, the equipment had undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. The leash was gone, as was the metal skag. The new "snowboards" had metal edges and Petex bottoms, like skis. Chris's Burton racing board was nearly as tall as he was and custom-made to his specifications; the old Sorel snowboots that he'd adjusted by wrapping duct tape around them had been replaced with racing boots as sophisticated and almost as rigid as regular ski boots.

He'd started racing the year after he got his first board. He'd gone on to become one of the top junior racers in the country for several years. Through it all, he'd had the unwavering support of his parents. His father had shuttled him to races all over Colorado and the Pacific Northwest -- even to the East Coast. Standing beside the courses, often in miserable weather conditions, he'd cheered his son on.

Chris had certainly never lacked confidence. When asked by Snowboarder magazine what he'd be doing with his winnings, which totaled a couple hundred dollars, the fifteen-year-old replied, "I intend to put it in a trust fund so that I can maintain my amateur status and be in the Olympics."

 
Brian Stauffer
 
Chris as a toddler.
Chris as a toddler.

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The interviewer smiled. "But, Chris, snowboarding isn't an Olympic sport."

"No," Chris conceded. "But it will be...and I'm going to be there."

There were few sports at which Chris didn't excel. Like his brother, Jim, who was an All-State football player and later went on to Dartmouth on a football scholarship, Chris loved football. In junior high school, he was determined to be a star quarterback. One evening, he lit up the front yard like a stadium, dragging lamps from the living room with every extension cord he could find. When his mother asked what he was doing, he explained that he needed more practice throwing the football but had run out of daylight.

Chris had a poster of his idol, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, hanging on his wall. He'd read an article about how diligently Payton prepared, mentally and physically. The story noted that the future Hall of Famer's off-season workouts included repeatedly running up a steep hill near his home. The next thing Chris's parents knew, their son was running up a butte to prepare himself for football.

In high school, Chris was a football star who thought about an NFL career when he wasn't dreaming about Olympic snowboarding. He also played varsity tennis, which was how he met his girlfriend, Melissa "Missy" April, who competed for a rival school.

Although Chris spent a lot of time with Missy, he'd always had many friends. His friends would do anything for him and knew they could expect the same loyalty from him. One of them was his "brother," Jason. They'd become friends on the the football field in junior high. Jason had never met his real father, and his mother and stepfather were drug addicts. The family lived on food stamps, so once a month there'd be full stomachs for Jason and his little brother, Josh. Otherwise, they went to school hungry and wearing dirty clothes. No one cared how they did in, or after, school.

Chris started bringing Jason home every night for dinner. Soon his friend was doing his laundry at the Klug house and sitting in for help with his homework.

When Jason was about thirteen and his brother was nine, the Oregon Department of Social Services removed them from their mother's home. The Klugs took the boys in. They knew this was the time their former minister had talked about -- time to repay an old debt. As soon as the boys settled in, they blossomed. The change in Josh was particularly dramatic. Instead of failing his classes, he became a solid B student. Bright and likable, he was a kid with real possibilities.

So it was a blow when social services placed Josh back with his birth mother after about eight months with the Klugs. He was soon in trouble at school again and, later, with the law. Jason stayed with the Klugs through high school. Big and strong, he was the lineman who protected Chris, the quarterback. The other kids considered him their brother, and Warren and Kathy referred to him as their adopted son.

Chris graduated from high school in June 1991 with a 3.9 grade point average, but was still unsure of what he wanted to do. Should he play college football or pursue a sport that was just beginning to take off with larger purses and more sponsorships? He decided to attend Deerfield Academy, a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts, where he could play another year of high school football and race on the World Cup circuit, most of which was held in Europe, while he made up his mind. Chris did well that fall semester, but he soon realized that he was not the second coming of John Elway. He could hardly wait for the snowboard racing season.

The headmaster, however, was not so keen on him taking the necessary time off from his studies to race in Europe. "This snowboarding is going nowhere," he told Chris and his parents.

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