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A true amateur

Snowboarder Jewell's long, strange trip to Turin

Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 6:05PM; Updated: Thursday February 23, 2006 11:11AM
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Tyler Jewell was the lone U.S. male representative in parallel giant slalom.
Tyler Jewell was the lone U.S. male representative in parallel giant slalom.
Simon Bruty/SI

TURIN, Italy -- For those of you who have spent the last 10 days not so much rejoicing in the USA's success in Olympic snowboarding as fretting about the sport's slide into the corporate mainstream, take heart: There is still one Olympic snowboard event in which the U.S. does not rock, in which at least one of its American practitioners still nearly qualifies as an amateur, virtually untouched as he is by corporate largesse.

Meet Tyler Jewell, the lone U.S. male representative in the Olympic event of parallel giant slalom. Jewell came in ninth in Wednesday's event, in which two boarders race side by side down the mountain in a series of elimination heats. But for him to get as far as the finals in Bardonecchia, Jewell had to overcome enough long odds to fill several NBC "My Stories."

"I've done this on my own, yet everyone has helped me," says Jewell, whose lone corporate sponsor is Welch's, the grape juice company. "So many people have reached their hand out to me. Just when I'd think I was out of money and not able to pull off the season, something would come along."

Jewell, who turned 29 on Feb. 21, grew up in Sudbury, Mass., with a learning disability -- "I prefer to call it a learning difference," he says -- yet he got good enough grades to get into Boston College, where he played lacrosse for four years. His dad, Ed, paid the bill. "My dad gave me the gift of going to college, " says Jewell, who started snowboarding at 10. "He paid for that, then he said, OK, now you're a man, I've given you the tools to be successful. If you want to go for the snowboarding, be my guest. I support you, but I'm not giving you any money."

The Home Depot job opportunity program helped out for about a year, but when his World Cup results didn't make the cut three years ago, the Depot dropped him. "Actually, they kept paying me for a while afterward, like severance," he says. "What a cool thing." Soon after, the U.S. team told him it would have to focus its resources on the five World Cup racers who were ahead of him.

Jewell wasn't fazed. For a few months he lived out of the car for which he still owes Ed money, dining exclusively on two boxes of Power Bars a friend had given him. When he told a former Boston College lacrosse teammate that he had lost 15 pounds on his new diet, the friend got him a job doing sports promotions. Another friend got him a job selling sausages at a county fair in New Mexico.