West Bloomfield native, former Brother Rice student captures Olympic medal

By: Timothy Pontzer | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 26, 2018

 West Bloomfield native Kyle Mack holds his silver medal before addressing the crowd at a meet-and-greet at West Bloomfield High April 22. Mack totaled a 168.75 in the Big Air final Feb. 24 in PyeongChang, South Korea, to capture his first career Olympic medal.

West Bloomfield native Kyle Mack holds his silver medal before addressing the crowd at a meet-and-greet at West Bloomfield High April 22. Mack totaled a 168.75 in the Big Air final Feb. 24 in PyeongChang, South Korea, to capture his first career Olympic medal.

Photo by Timothy Pontzer

 Fans cheer for Kyle Mack during an April 22 ceremony at West Bloomfield High. Hundreds of local residents came out to welcome Mack back home after his accomplishment.

Fans cheer for Kyle Mack during an April 22 ceremony at West Bloomfield High. Hundreds of local residents came out to welcome Mack back home after his accomplishment.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

 West Bloomfield native Kyle Mack, 20, poses with Luke Edelheit, left, and Justin Edelheit, right, during a meet-and-greet at West Bloomfield High April 22.

West Bloomfield native Kyle Mack, 20, poses with Luke Edelheit, left, and Justin Edelheit, right, during a meet-and-greet at West Bloomfield High April 22.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

Tucked in his right pants pocket, snowboarder Kyle Mack keeps a memento he has spent a lifetime in pursuit of earning.

Only two months old, the prize already sports several scratches and dings. An accompanying lanyard is fraying and split at the seams, showing the wear once it is unfurled from being tightly wound around its sterling centerpiece.

The award in question is an Olympic silver medal, captured by Mack half a world away from his hometown of West Bloomfield. The treatment of the priceless memento is not a reflection of Mack’s disregard for it, but rather his humble nature regarding the overall achievement.

“This thing is pretty beat up,” Mack said with a laugh while holding up the medal, which weighs over a pound. “I actually don’t like wearing it, because it’s so heavy and I don’t want people to think I’m trying to be like, ‘Look at me,’ or anything. It’s a much greater feeling to have a little kid put it on for a picture and see their face light up.”

 

Welcome home
Hundreds of local children did just that at an April 22 event at West Bloomfield High. Mack was treated to a champion’s welcome, complete with the 20-year-old greeting the crowd from the back seat of a brand-new red Ferrari. He signed autographs, raffled off snowboards and skateboards, and posed for plenty of pictures.

“It’s insane; I can’t even describe what it means to see this many people care and come out,” Mack said. “I didn’t know it would turn out like this. I wouldn’t be here without all the support I’ve gotten. I have grandparents and family here I haven’t seen in so long. There’s teachers and friends from growing up. It’s just incredible.”

Mack was born and raised in West Bloomfield, attending Birmingham Brother Rice for the first three years of high school. Due to a complicated schedule that involved balancing homework and traveling the world in competition, he spent his senior year at Pontiac High, where he graduated in 2016.

“Ever since I was a kid, my teachers have been super supportive,” Mack explained. “I struggled to give my time to school and snowboarding. I’d go and practice all day and then stay up late working on school. Brother Rice killed it, helping me as much as they could. When I graduated from Pontiac, I got to walk on graduation day. I owe both schools so much, letting me compete and graduate.”

 

From early on
While he also played football, baseball and hockey growing up, Mack was unable to compete at the prep level because he was already a professional. He signed with Burton Snowboards at 8 years old, having already qualified for the European Open one year prior. 

He made the Dew Tour at 13, the same year that he was named to the United States Junior Snowboarding Team. At 16, he missed qualifying for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi by one spot, fueling his desire to make it to PyeongChang four years later.

“Snowboarding is really all I’ve known. I’ve done this for more than half my life now,” said Mack, who first hit the slopes at the age of 3. “But after winning, it’s changed everything about my life. It’s crazy to think, because I never thought it would get this big. It’s kind of mind-blowing.”

While he now lives in Colorado to focus on his career, Mack said he is loyal and thankful to his old stomping grounds. He cites Alpine Valley and Boyne Mountain as the two hills where he honed his craft.

“I’m just so thankful for this area. It’s a great place to grow up, and there are so many people who helped me succeed,” Mack said. “Just walking around, getting my haircut, going to restaurants, people seem to know who I am. All these opportunities and doors that have opened are so cool, but I owe everything to the people that have helped get me this far.”

Mack also visited Pontiac High April 20 to speak to his alma mater about hard work and determination. His mother, Connie, said he made a point to revisit where it all began.

“He’s very humble and grateful. We’ve raised our kids to realize that it takes a village for them to have success,” she said. “It’s not just them. That’s why he gives back.”

 

Medal run
Mack’s mother and father, Tod, along with his three siblings made the trip to South Korea for the Olympics. The whole family saw Mack’s run in the slopestyle, an event that includes both metal rails and ramps. Mack failed to qualify for the final.

“It was amazing to have my whole family there. I felt like I maybe let them down a little bit in the slopestyle,” Mack explained. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted in that, so it lit a fire in me and made me hungry for the Big Air later in the week.”

Boasting two large jumps with a 60-foot gap, the Big Air was a competition making its debut in the Olympics this year. Mack estimated that he reached heights of nearly 30 feet during the event, which featured 36 snowboarders from around the world. Mack was one of the dozen combatants to qualify for the finals, significantly changing his parents’ travel plans.

“The rest of my family had to go back to America for school and stuff,” Mack said. “My parents stayed for Big Air and they were going to leave, but when I made the finals they stayed. I had to wait three days (between the qualifying and finals), but I just focused on what I had to do.”

His mother described feeling an array of emotions.

“There’s a lot of nerves,” she said. “You’re really nervous for him the whole time. The hard part is qualifying. When he made the finals, we were good with that, whether he won anything or not. I was very, very nervous that morning. I fast quite a bit in prayer for him. When we knew he got silver, I jumped the fence and got in trouble. It was all worth it. There were many, many tears of joy.”

The final format consisted of three runs, with the top two scores being added together. Mack earned an 82.00 on his first trip down the hill, setting up a gutsy decision on his second attempt.

Off the first ramp, Mack completed a backside triple cork 1440 “Japan,” which translates to four full revolutions with three flips while one hand grabs the middle of his board, pulling his feet behind his back.

After landing that, Mack pulled off a frontside double cork 1440 “Bloody Dracula,” doing the previous trick in the opposite direction, minus one flip, but while using both hands to grab the tail ends of the board and pulling it behind his back. 

Mack had never successfully landed that particular trick.

“I landed that grab with a smaller rotation, but never a 1440 with that grab,” Mack said. “I tried it in practice a lot, but I could never get it. I figured the Olympics are the biggest stage so I should go for it, and thankfully it worked.”

He earned an 86.75 for the effort, allowing him to unsuccessfully try an even more daring trick on his third run.

“I was super stoked, because it took a lot of pressure off to land it on my second run when you need two to count,” Mack said. “At that point, I landed the two tricks that I wanted, and I went for a Hail Mary on the last one for gold. While I didn’t get it, I still got a medal.”

Canadian Sebastien Toutant took the gold medal. After the final scores were announced, Mack said he lost his breath seeing his name in second place. He then saw his mother jump the fence and spring through the snow toward him.

“In some of the earlier events, medalists had been stopped from meeting with their family due to cameras and security,” Mack said. “I was not going to let that happen to me. I ran over and jumped a fence too. I was not listening to anybody. I just wanted to hug my parents.”

 

Going forward
Set to turn 21 in July, Mack has accomplished quite a bit for his age. He is set to throw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game in the summer and is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump in May. He admitted that he has paid a price for his success, listing off a dislocated wrist, broken right elbow, torn ACL and MCL in his knee, dislocated left and right shoulders, and a host of ankle problems.

“My body has taken a beating, but I’m still young so I can bounce back pretty fast,” Mack said. “I definitely want to try and go for Beijing (for the 2022 Olympics), and hopefully I actually have two more Olympics in me.”

Mack said the pain and hard work are worth it, recalling the moment he received his now-banged-up medal.

“The medal ceremony was an unbelievable experience, something I’ll definitely never forget,” Mack remembered. “To stand there and see the flags raised and have the medal put on my neck, it’s truly hard to describe how it felt. But everything to that moment was worth it. To win for my country, to win for my family and friends was the coolest thing.”