Big Heir

Jesse Csincsak gives handouts in a hand-to-mouth sport.

"Jesse is a very unusual athlete, in my book," says Patti Campana of Amherst, Ohio, Csincsak's home town. "His mind thinks different than other kids his age." When Csincsak asked Campana to be on the board of his new nonprofit, she agreed immediately.

Their first fundraiser was a lowly steak fry. "We rented out the Amherst Eagles Hall," recalls Ryan Lahetta, who helped organize the event. More than 500 people showed up -- out of a town of 13,000. "Amherst is just thrilled with Jesse," Campana says.

Since then, dinners and other fundraisers -- sales of snowboarding calendars, mostly -- have provided J-SAK with an operating budget of about $10,000 per year. At first the idea was to support Ohio riders. But when Csincsak moved to Colorado, the program followed him.

Mike Gorman

Campana says that in addition to being promising riders, applicants for J-SAK grants must demonstrate a certain amount of social awareness. Last year, she recalls, J-SAK turned down two sisters who'd applied because they couldn't manage to see beyond their last run. "Their mother was an officer in USABA" -- the United States of America Snowboarding Association -- "and so they never really thought they had to do their part to give back," she says. Past recipients have agreed to mentor young riders and give talks to local youth organizations, among other projects.

"Jesse doesn't want to deal with people who aren't serious," says Campana. "We want people who want to make it to the top." Although J-SAK's board reviews applications, the final decision is made by Csincsak.

Baker-Haight, who is 25, applied after she happened to notice Csincsak's truck parked in Lake George. The truck had his website advertised on the back, and she logged on and applied for some cash. Csincsak called her a few days later and invited her for an interview. "We went riding through Peak 8's pipe," Baker-Haight recalls. "I'm not much into superpipe, and these were eighteen-foot walls." Still, four runs later, she had a new sponsor.

The amount was typically small -- a $300 season pass, about $500 in professional-organization membership dues and the promise to pay a handful of competition entry fees. Maybe later, if things go really well, J-SAK will buy Baker-Haight a gas card to help pay for the daily drive from her home in Woodland Park to Breckenridge. "But every bit helps," she says, pointing out that the most she's ever won at a competition was $100. "I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for Jesse."

J-SAK sponsors five other riders, one of whom, naturally, is Csincsak. But he says the real kick is being the guy who doles out the cash rather than being the one begging for it. "People come to me now. I get the phone calls instead of me calling them."

Of course, it shouldn't have to be that way. This past January, a record number of spectators traveled to Aspen to watch young athletes hurl their bodies off motorcycles, over jumps and down steep pitches. The Winter X Games included daily live telecasts on ESPN and were broadcast in ten languages to more than 145 countries and territories around the world. They were seen by more than 100 million people. Somebody's making money off of snowboarding; there's no reason the athletes involved should have to beg for scraps.

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