Pettengill places fifth, with one lung
After taking a hard fall in the boardercross semi-finals at the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) Nationals, Billy Pettengill ’11 strapped into his board for a chance at the title. With the 90-foot long stair-step feature that had earlier thrown him on his chest looming in the distance, the senior economics and anthropology double major dug in for his only finals race at a national event this season. “I knew the fall had at least taken the wind out of me and at 10,500 feet [at Copper Mountain in Colorado] the air is a lot thinner,” he said. “But I still wanted to race, even though I was about 30 percent physically.”
Pulling out of the gate, which was a challenge in itself, Pettengill knew this race wasn’t meant to be. After getting his hole-shot in the semis (where a rider breaks through the line of the other five competitors to take an early lead), he found himself in last, struggling to breathe. Still, about a minute later, the senior crossed the line in fifth—ahead of one other racer—claiming top-five status in the open professional class of USASA. Not bad for a student who has at times gone months without riding and yet still entered the finals qualified third among 60 entrants. “Billy got in a run or two,” wrote his father Bill after the race. “It would have been more, but he had been at school. All of the others had raced and raced, training nearly every single day, many of them know no other way.”
Considering the conditions, however, Pettengill’s East Coast upbringing—the senior hails from Guilford, V.T.—might’ve just worked in his favor, despite the comparative lack of ride time. This was his third year in a row at USASA Nationals (he’s gone every year since he began racing through the association in January 2009) and Pettengill knows the routine of the event. Interestingly, the ice block that was Copper Mountain on the day of his race brought to mind many days of training on Sugarloaf’s shortened boardercross course. “In the weeks leading up to the race I was on the hill at most twice per week,” said Pettengill. “All I can do is get my legs working, practice some tight turns and ride fast down the mountain with the other skiers and riders and practice my starts on their course,” he added. Pettengill was also racing for the second consecutive year in Open Class, which is open to the highest-level U.S riders (this year the ninth.-ranked rider in the world, a U.S. Team member, made the trip to Copper). The format adds to the pressure. As Pettengill noted, at the Nor-Am level, you have an entire day to test the course, while at the USASAs you have one slip run on race day at 7:45 a.m. and two full-speed practice runs before a one-and-done time trial (at the Nor-Am you get two).
“That’s the important part,” said Pettengill, “at the Nationals there is a best-of-one time trial. If you crash, you don’t even make it into the finals.” Perhaps the trial itself indicated the day that was to come: the rider before Pettengill fell and he had to bail off of the course for a re-try. “There was perhaps more pressure on this time trial than at a Nor-Am, but I felt good about my run.” In fact, Pettengill clocked the fastest time to date on his trial and, with his third-place qualifier, was in a good position to break quickly through the pack, though he still needed a quarterfinals photo finish to qualify for those ill-fated semis.“He then strapped on his board even though he had a great pain in his chest,” wrote his father Bill, “Off the six went, they were the best of the best. Billy was hoping just to finish and maybe weave his way through a crashed mess. But it wasn't meant to be.”
Still, the fifth-place finish he recorded with a collapsed lung wasn’t all that bad. “I’m very excited to finish fifth after not being able to train much at all,” said Pettengill, who will race on the Nor-Am tour after graduation. “It was a great end to my season. My time trials are getting faster, and my results are getting better.”
His father wrote, noting the lengths his son has gone, “Some say, ‘Who is this tall kid from a place far away, and why has he come so far? We don't even know how to say his name!’ Many say: ‘this is insane.’”