Jenise Spiteri is Malta’s first female snowboarder, only athlete at the Olympics

In January 2012, Jenise Spiteri, then a student, posted a facebook status which read: “Wanted: Someone to teach me to ride pipe tomorrow. anyone available??? The post received two likes, ten comments and one share.

A decade later, 29-year-old Spiteri competes in the women’s snowboard halfpipe competition at her first Olympics. She is the first female snowboarder to represent Malta at the Winter Games and the only athlete representing the country in Beijing this year.

As a child in California, Spiteri wanted to be an actor. But as a high school senior, she decided to pursue snowboarding professionally. She continued to ride horses through college and one of her teammates suggested that she qualify for the Olympics for Malta, where her paternal grandfather had emigrated after World War II. Spiteri hadn’t considered competing in the Olympics, she said, but the idea made strategic and sentimental sense: Since she didn’t advance through the regular development pipeline in the United States, her chances of representing her country on the Olympic stage were low best.

But the idea was also a tribute to her grandfather, who died in 2010 and had his own connection to the games. He started a company, SP-Teri, that made figure skating shoes for Olympic stars like Michelle Kwan. “To be able to bring the Olympics to his home and represent his home I thought would be a really cool and special thing,” she said.

Six months before the 2018 Olympics, Spiteri tore his Achilles tendon and meniscus at a World Cup event in New Zealand. She fought through the injuries to compete in several Olympic qualifiers but did not land a spot in Pyeongchang.

But Spiteri, whose hair is bright pink and blue, was able to find her way back. your journey is largely self-financedalthough she also receives financial support from the Olympic Solidarity training program, which helps countries build their national sports programs. But snowboarding is expensive, so Spiteri lives on a modest budget, reuses her gear season after season, and has taken odd jobs (including being an extra on shows like Euphoria).

To help pay her rent, Spiteri lived out of her vehicle during her early years while attending college in Colorado and Washington. She quickly learned what foods she liked that didn’t need refrigeration (canned tuna and cheese), what personal items were likely to freeze (toothpaste, contact lenses), and how to a Credit card to scrape away frost from the inside of her windshield.

In 2020 Spiteri converted to a transporter that she was equipped with a fridge and a stove for cooking, but still had no warmth while she slept. Temperatures dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. “I couldn’t find a way to heat without signaling that the van was occupied,” she said. “I’m a 5ft 4 woman and I don’t want people to know that anyone is sleeping there.”

While training for three weeks last summer, I didn’t buy a $900 season pass plus the $125 daily fee for the halfpipe. Spiteri hiked more than a mile up the mountain with their gear to access the slopes. She spent the money she saved on coaching sessions a few times a week.

But the daily hike was daunting. “After three days of hiking, I thought: Why am I doing this?” Spiteri recalled. “I’m training for the Olympics and I’ve already hiked for an hour before training.”

It’s been a long 10 years since this Facebook post, but for Spiteri the sacrifices made for the Olympics have paid off.

“I know I haven’t had the same benefits or opportunities that other people have, but I never wanted to stop because of it,” she said. “That was never an option. It was like I had to work harder to make it up to you.”

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