‘A catalyst for me’: A year in Bonners Ferry changed the course for an Olympic snowboarder

BONNERS FERRY, Idaho – When we’re young, we all have a dream of what we’d like to do when we’re older.

For as long as Robby Burns could remember, he dreamed of making it to the Olympics in snowboarding.

“The dream came before my problems started and stayed with me after them. That dream has always been a fire inside, and it’s always burned really hot,” he said.

Burns was born and raised in Mount Shasta, California, a small town at the base of the mountain. Because he lived so close to a ski mountain, he worked toward that dream, refining his skills on the slope.

As he hit high school years, Burns said he made some “poor decisions.”

“Going down the path of drugs and alcohol and partying, and getting caught up in that and being from a family that was religious, Christian,  there was no room for those decisions to be made in my upbringing,” he said.

Burns said he’s lucky to have watchful parents, who saw what he was going through and did something to help him correct his course.

In his senior year in 2008, his family took him 700 miles away from home to Bonners Ferry to attend Northwest Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for at-risk youth. The school has since closed.

Burns stayed there for just one year, working on himself and turning around his life.

His therapist at Northwest Academy, Dan Tadlock, said Burns struggled.

“When a kid goes to treatment, it is a challenge. It’s tough… It was a hard thing he was working on, and his parents had really made a really tough decision that we need to pull together and get some help,” Tadlock said.

He worked through his issues, which Burns didn’t want to go more into detail about. Through this time at the boarding school, Burns was able to play various sports at Bonners Ferry High.

“In the challenging time when I had a lot of work to do on myself, being able to still compete in team sports, it made a huge difference for me,” Burns said. “Getting to do it in a community like Bonners Ferry, that was not just so similar to my community back home, but extremely kind, extremely open and willing to take another one under their wing and say, ‘Hey, you’re a Badger, too,’ that was super special to me.”

Tadlock said Burns playing in sports helped be a great motivator for him to help himself.

Burns fit in easily, too, when he came to the boarding school and played sports at Bonners Ferry High.

“He worked hard. He was just one of those kids that just joined in and he would always do everything to the best of his ability,” said Tom Turpin, Burns’ former baseball coach at Bonners Ferry High.

Turpin said it’s “rewarding” to see Burns make it to the international stage in Beijing.

What ended up being a few months of coaching him and a total of a year of being in Boundary County for Burns, it turned out to be life-changing not only for him but everyone he met.

“When I look at the road it’s taken to get here, I think there’s a very long list of people who’ve been invaluable to my growth and my understanding and my ability to continue and persevering in this industry,” he continued. “Undoubtedly, there’s a list of people from Bonners Ferry who were a huge part of that. That year was sort of a catalyst for me.”

“That’s one of the reasons I coach baseball besides the passion of baseball, is to see what they can do in the future. He’s got a long life ahead of him and for him to achieve something like this and credit myself and other people in our community, then we did our job,” Turpin said. “If it’s one or many, we’ve done what we set out to do.”

Burns has always been determined and confident, even as a Bonners Ferry Badger on the field and in the court, and sometimes on Schweitzer Mountain.

“Even at 17 years of age, it was impressive to watch him just carve up the hill,” Tadlock said.

As Burns speeds down the hills outside Beijing this week, he’ll no doubt be envisioning Olympic gold, but also thinking of everyone who helped him get there.

“Even when I watch the mental video of where I started and where I am now, it’s like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “It brings me to tears faster than most other things will. It’s pretty overwhelming, It means a whole lot to me. It’s pretty special to be here.”

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Source: KXLY.com