For Vito, the Olympics represent family, heritage this time
Other Vito family members would watch in Rome, New York, where Lou grew up and which has a strong Italian-American presence.
And people would follow in various parts of central and southern Italy, where Louie is becoming as revered as he is at Bellefontaine and nearby Mad River Mountain, the place where he first learned times he could be a star on snow and ice.
Vito represented the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and finished fifth in the halfpipe.
This time – instead of wearing red, white and blue – his uniform is green, white and red.
He is competing for Italy, which means he represents his family and his heritage.
“First and foremost, being able to go to the Olympics for the United States, has always been my dream,” he said the other day from Beijing on the swimmer-hosted “In the Village” podcast. Olympian Elizabeth Beisel.
“But it’s something different. It’s something very personal and close to my heart and very important to me.
Many of the athletes in these Games grew up in the United States and, because there aren’t a lot of spots on the US team – there are only four spots in snowboarding – or because it’s to connect with their roots, they compete for another nation.
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy is representing Great Britain after competing in two Olympics with the United States.
And teenage freestyle skiing sensation Eileen Gu, who grew up in San Francisco, just won gold for China.
His story may be better known than Vito’s, but in many ways his story is even more wonderful.
He beat the odds in so many different ways.
He’s 33, old in a sport where many of the competitors (aside from Shaun White, 35) are much younger and now rush to do bolder, riskier tricks.
It has been 12 years since he stepped onto the Olympic stage and in that time he has had to overcome numerous injuries, including a broken back he suffered during the final Olympic trials ahead of the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 in South Korea.
To do this, he was inspired by what he told Beisel was the “blue-collar chip” he’s had on his shoulder for his entire career.
“I worked year after year, competing with blown discs, a broken back, a torn meniscus, all those things,” he said.
To join the Italy team – an effort he funds himself and takes no money from the Italian national team – he went through the arduous task of obtaining dual citizenship.
He takes lessons to learn to speak Italian.
And he did all of this at a time when strict COVID protocols are in place, here and in Italy – which has been hit hard by the pandemic – and especially in Beijing, where athletes exist in a half-bubble and, a he said, are tested for the virus every day.
It was an admirable effort, often by a yeoman, and yet there were short-sighted people on social media who took issue, sometimes viciously, because he is competing for Italy.
“Some of these people don’t understand,” Linzee said calmly. “That’s why it’s sometimes frustrating. You have people who write opinions and say cruel things.
But people who really know Louie Vito and his motivations – fellow Americans, Olympians, Mad River Mountain folks and even Father Shawn Landenwitch, who spent three years at Alter High School in Kettering and is now the pastor of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Bellefontaine, know better.
Vito has supported the church’s St. Vincent de Paul Pantry for 17 years.
As Landenwitch said:
“He’s famous, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He understands that he has a responsibility to serve others. I think he’s a great role model for young people – really for everyone – here.
Family work ethic
Vito’s paternal grandmother, Angiolina, traveled from Introdacqua in the Abruzzo region of Italy and landed at Ellis Island.
The family has now discovered that her husband, Louis Sr., was a stowaway. He died aged 34, leaving her with two children, including two-year-old Lou. They lived in Rome, New York, and Angiolina had to work hard as an immigrant mother raising two children on her own.
This is where Lou learned his work ethic, which he passed on to Louie.
Lou came to Ohio State for his graduate studies. He met Judy, who is from Tiffin. He eventually bought a pair of bankrupt radio stations in Bellefontaine, Louie said, and now owns four stations there and in Urbana.
The family – especially Lou and Louie – were drawn to Mad River Mountain and soon Louie was challenging himself. But with a 300-foot drop and a short snow season, he didn’t have the same opportunities as other kids his age out west or in places like Vermont.
He attended Windells Snowboarding Camp at Mount Hood when he was eight years old, but in national competitions he finished in the middle of the pack.
His father was then also competing on an older circuit and realized that his son had a gift, but needed more opportunities.
While Linzee – who did snowboarding and gymnastics – stayed on and graduated from Bellefontaine High, Louie transferred to Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, which had trained other Olympians, and his career took off. .
He turned pro in 2006 and after graduating he moved to Utah, where he now lives and trains.
He’s had a long list of accomplishments, including winning four Grand Prix halfpipe championships, being a two-time Dew Cup halfpipe champion, winning multiple X Games crowns and, of course, becoming a popular Olympian in the United States.
Since Vancouver, he has been on the podium in 22 of 25 events.
Off snow, his resume is just as impressive.
Three months before Vancouver, he appeared on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and the foxtrot, rhumbaed and jive worked their way through Week 7 before being eliminated.
He appeared in ESPN the Magazine’s annual Body Issue, which features athletes tastefully posed in the chamois to show off the power and grace of the athletic body.
He was a host at the X Games, was named one of the “Top 50 Fittest Athletes in the World” by Men’s Health, and received a Young Hollywood Award titled “Most Awesome Athlete” in the United States.
While he has certainly made a name for himself far from home, nothing overshadows what he is still doing around Bellefontaine.
Every year — right after the Christmas holidays, when he knows the local food is running out — he hosts the Louie Vito Rail Jam for Charity at Mad River Mountain.
It brings in thousands of dollars in prizes to give away. Those who participate pay an entry fee or can donate canned goods for entry.
The food goes to the Saint-Vincent de Paul pantry.
Vito said he organizes this event every year to promote snowboarding to local youth and bring the community together and most importantly to help out the pantry.
Linzee said these are lessons their parents taught them:
“They let Louie know that he had been very lucky growing up, but that all of that could go away. You want to remember where you come from.
He does and that’s why so many people were celebrating his return to the Olympics.
Linzee, who is nine months pregnant, was ready for a low key watch party. Her husband was out of town so she planned to join some friends.
“I will be recording, cheering and taking pictures of the TV screen,” she said. “I already have some on my green, white and red.
“I know a lot of family are going to celebrate tonight. They are thrilled that Louie is competing for Italy and celebrating our heritage, and especially our grandmother.
“After her death, we learned that she renewed her passport just before the Winter Olympics in Italy (2006 in Turin). Just in case Louie made the team. She wanted to be there.
“So I can imagine how she would feel about that now.
“I’ll tell you, I believe in heaven.
“And I think she’s going to throw one hell of an Olympic party up there.”