Schleper returns to slopes, will ski for Mexico
(Eds: Adds details, quotes. Should stand. With AP Photos.)
By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
Sarah Schleper has one stringent rule around her house these days: The family must speak in Spanish and that even applies to her 1-year-old daughter, who's quickly learned to say "Hola!"
Just a way for the longtime American skier to become more fluent in the language of her recently adopted country.
The four-time Olympian will have a new passport when she returns to the World Cup circuit this season after retiring 2½ years ago. The Colorado skier just became a citizen of Mexico, where her husband is from. The International Ski Federation signed off on her decision to compete for Mexico, too, approving her release from the U.S. squad.
"You never really dream that you will be from somewhere else," Schleper said in an interview from Cabo San Lucas, where she's spent the last few weeks as she finished up the naturalization process. "I love the United States -- it is an honor and a privilege to be born here, so many people want that, but it feels amazing to be a dual citizen of Mexico.
"I love that it opens up a whole new world."
For now, Schleper's goal remains modest in her return -- race at the world championships next February in her hometown of Vail, Colorado.
Down the road, the 35-year-old wants to represent her new nation's green, white and red flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
"It's going to be fun to be out there again and see all my friends, just to be on tour again," said Schleper, who had four World Cup podium finishes, including a win in 2005, during a career with the U.S. that spanned from 1995 to 2011. "I just want to give it a shot."
Schleper will compete only in giant slalom events, starting Oct. 25 in Soelden, Austria. And she will race under her familiar name, even though she vigorously lobbied to change her last name to that of her husband, Federico Gaxiola, a native of Mexico City whom she married in 2007.
The undertaking to gain Mexican citizenship actually began a while ago for Schleper, in the hope the paperwork could be completed in time for her to race at the Sochi Olympics. She fully envisioned being there with one of the country's most famous skiers, Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, the German prince who's represented the nation at six Winter Games.
No such luck, though.
"It was so hard -- my hardest Olympics yet," joked Schleper, who's still trying to line up funding.
The last time Schleper competed in a World Cup race was Dec. 29, 2011, in Lienz, Austria, and she went out in style. She wore a beige dress for the occasion and stopped halfway down the slalom course to scoop up her young son, Lasse, so she could carry him across the finish line.
A memorable final run before stepping away for good -- or so she thought, anyway.
Returning to the U.S. team wasn't really an option, though. Not due to any sort of falling out, but rather because "the thrill of taking on the challenge of a new team and the chance to do it differently was what attracted me to racing for Mexico."
No hard feelings from the American side, either.
"We respect her decision to take on a new challenge and hope to see her racing again at the world championship level this winter in Vail-Beaver Creek," Alpine director Patrick Riml said in a statement.
Plenty has changed since she left the race scene. Longtime friends on the tour have called it a career. Teenager Mikaela Shiffrin has emerged as one of the faces of the sport. And, oh yeah, Schleper and her husband welcomed another child a year ago, naming their daughter Resi after U.S. skier Resi Stiegler.
Even in retirement, Schleper just couldn't resist the lure of the slopes, spending 150 days on snow this past winter.
"I feel like my skis are my shoes," said Schleper, who did some private coaching in Vail. "I just feel comfortable on skis."
Now, it's time for a new chapter -- with a new country and a new child along for the ride. She and her husband used to take Lasse all around the globe, but now Lasse is in school and her husband is starting a career as a real estate broker in Vail.
So Resi and Schleper's mother-in-law will be her new travel companions.
"My daughter needs to see the world a little bit, too," Schleper said. "It just wouldn't be fair otherwise."
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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