“There’s a quote by Pooh Bear about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary,” she says, her lips curling into a smile at the memory of it.
“You mean Winnie the Pooh,” I reply, unsure whether I know what either Pooh Bear or this quote actually is.
“Yes,” she says, firmly nodding her head. “That’s it. Winnie the Pooh. I’m sure it is. It’s about how the extraordinary is right in front of our eyes. In the ordinary. It’s about how you look at life. How you view it. And then you discover the extraordinary is in the ordinary.”
I can’t help but grin in return.
It’s absurd that Pooh Bear said such a thing but it’s probably true. It’s absurd that I’m sat here alone with this national treasure. It’s even more absurd that we’re talking about bears and adventures and living abroad and life and how to be better at living it.
It’s a cold, wet and windy morning in Sydney, yet tucked away at the back of a trendy downtown hotel is an idyllic winter wonderland. Pine-scented candles flicker and white dusted foliage covers the tabletops, as media gather for the Thredbo snow season launch.
I’m clearly out of my depth surrounded by legends of the print and online world, television personalities and high flying marketing execs. Still, we all share two common interests. Namely, the arrival of the winter sports season in Australia and the imminent appearance of the country’s most successful winter Olympian.
I’ve followed this star of the sporting world since Vancouver 2010. I know her style, how she handles herself, the way she takes everything she does in her stride (albeit a goofy one). She’s refreshingly grounded, entirely easy-going and minus the usual diva antics associated with most modern-day celebs.
At the relatively tender age of 28, she’s also already something of an Aussie sporting hero, having taken out snowboard gold and silver medals in the women’s halfpipe at the last two Olympics and a string of top medals at World Championships, X Games, World Super Pipes and more.
With this kind of supreme talent and achievement, it’s not hard to understand what made the Australian public fall in love with her. And through personal struggles and sporting hardship, they’ve remained firmly behind her.
Today I get to see why.
Not long after I sit down at my allocated place, an outstretched hand appears in front of me.
“Hi, I’m Torah,” she says, as if not knowing her would be the most normal thing in the world. With little prompting, I respond by launching into an introduction to the blog and my work.
“It’s about doing what you love most, being who you want to be, making time for the things that matter.” I wonder if she’ll laugh or cry but instead she rewards me with an epic fist bump.
For me, the appeal of Torah Bright, Australia’s greatest ever female Winter Olympian, isn’t her snowboard poster girl good looks and admirable commitment to the Mormon faith, impressive as they both are.
It’s the fact that she’s approachable, down-to-earth and oozing with positivity. You can’t fail to connect with her and she loves life with a passion and conviction that would put most people to shame.
She travels extensively, Instagrams like a pro, wields a Sony ActionCam like a ninja with a nunchuck and even found time to write her autobiography, It Takes Courage. She surfs, dances obsessively and recently went on a Euro trip with her best friend.
It’s safe to say that she’s clearly loving life and smack bang in the middle of what she calls “Torah time” (read: downtime away from competitive sport after major contests) but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“I dropped out of school and left home to pursue my dream just before my 14th birthday,” she says. “I was young, given opportunities, I loved snowboarding and I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t even have time to think through what I was doing so fear never really came into it.”
Yet by the end of her first season abroad with her brother Ben, Torah was travelling alone to Whistler for a magazine shoot, then venturing over to Europe. Sleeping on couches and travelling the world, she was ready to come home once the homesickness kicked in.
After one winter season back in Australia, North America again came calling and Torah returned to stay with a local family. Someone else’s family. Visits from her own loved ones were all-too-short and infrequent because of distance and commitments.
“The family unit is so important to me. Christmases and birthdays were hard.”
The sports contracts and endorsement deals soon flooded in but saying ‘yes’ to them was increasingly difficult for Torah, acutely conscious that ‘yes’ meant less time with her family and longer periods away. However, the fact remained that this was her one chance to follow her true passion and do what she loved most.
She moved to Salt Lake City in Utah, not far from her sister who was studying there and, with her mother joining her as a tutor for three months each year, the family bond held firm.
As anyone having moved abroad knows, Torah was thrust into a life of firsts and cultural novelties – from learning to drive a car at the age of 15 (in Australia, you must be 17) to owning her first house.
She effectively became a citizen of the world at the age of 13 and it wasn’t without it’s tough times.
Dreaming of the ordinary
She remembers the trips back to visit family and friends in her hometown, Cooma, in the New South Wales’ Snowy Mountains.
“It was okay until my friends went away to university,” Torah says. “As a group, we dispersed and I felt less connected. Meanwhile, I had created two lives for myself – the one in Salt Lake City and my home life in Australia – and it still feels that way. The two co-exist but never seem to intertwine.”
While her friends settled down into regular lives, Torah’s was far from that. As each contract ended, she would consider whether to come back and embrace a normal life like them, something she says she could easily have found joy and happiness with.
The distance was further exaggerated by the lack of easy communication. With no Skype, Facebook or FaceTime, phone cards were the order of the day and keeping up-to-date with loved ones grew increasingly difficult.
And she missed the simple things in life. She was a professional athlete making great money, she looked after her affairs, managed her finances, everything.
Yet she was only a teenager.
The rest, as many will know, is a glorious history of sporting achievement and incredible popularity. She had it all – and still has – but you’d be wrong in thinking that she doesn’t occasionally reflect on a different life.
“I stayed with my sister recently and her husband left her a note saying what a wonderful wife she was. It was so lovely. Such a normal gesture for a loving couple.”
A change in focus
Last year, Torah spent the winter down under. It was the first time she’d done so in 15 years. It represented a change in approach. She hadn’t stayed away because she didn’t care. She had a job to do and she did it well.
“Even though what I do is about me and my performances, I never really focused on myself, on my own personal wellbeing. I just didn’t care and said ‘yes’ to everything. I wore myself out.”
Following a troubled and well-documented chapter in her life, Torah realised that she had to look after herself. She had to put herself first.
So she changed her priorities and came home to recharge. Focused more on her family, her lifestyle, the time outside of work and on continuing to remain grounded, crediting this to being “a girl from Cooma and from a big family”.
She now insists on having balance in her life, acknowledging that “we all need to focus on things like work to get by” but understanding that it doesn’t have to all be about work. Gratitude has been the cornerstone for Torah – being thankful for everything coming her way.
“Putting out good vibes creates better vibes,” she says. “What you put out there, you attract in return. The power of intention in putting out how you feel.”
While some are quick to jump upon her faith as the key to the way she lives her life – it’s regularly reported that she doesn’t drink alcohol, coffee or even tea – I don’t believe it’s what defines her approach to life and neither does she.
“Much of the way I view life doesn’t come from religion. It comes from having wonderful parents and siblings. My values, to be kind and honest, the way I approach my life, it all comes from basic principles instilled in me from an early age, principles that we all have instilled in us as people.”
It’s been a day of memorable quotes and Torah leaves me with one more, her own personal motto in fact.
“Live your life with honour, humility, love, laughter and passion always within you,” she says as we finish up.
I find the quote to be that incredible in its simplicity and connection to everything I do, I’m ready to give an epic fist bump in return.
But I don’t. Because it’s Torah. Who’s a legend. And someone I think is extraordinary.
When she’s not travelling the world, Torah is in Australia representing Thredbo resort as its ambassador and face of the latest campaign to get Aussies to the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.
After discovering almost five million Australians have never seen snow, Thredbo found a group of kids who fit this group to see just how much (or little) they know about the wonderful, mysterious thing that is snow. Each of the kids featured in the following video will be going to Thredbo this winter so they can experience their first snow holiday and receive lessons from Torah. Awesome.