Randy Angel

PV’s Eden Serena seeks spot on Philippine snowboard team

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Uphill battles are part of every athlete’s career, no matter how long or short it may be. The mountains the record setters and history makers must conquer loom even larger, but for Eden Serina, it’s the downhill battle that can earn her a place in the record books.Eden Serina

Serina’s passion for snowboarding has led the 34-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes resident away from two lucrative jobs to the slopes, where she is making an attempt to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to be held Feb. 12-18 in Vancouver, Canada.

But it’s not the race for gold, silver or bronze that drives Serina in competition. It’s HER race. The longtime Peninsula resident is attempting to become the first female athlete to represent the Philippines in any Winter Olympic Games.

Although the Philippines holds the distinction of being the first tropical nation to compete in the Winter Olympics when the country sent skiers Ben Nanasca and Juan Cipriano to Sappora, Japan in 1972 (there since has been a luge racer and an Alpine skier), the country has not had a representative since 1992. Serina is confident she will not only break the drought but make history at the same time.

“I was raised by Filipino parents and under Filipino values and traditions and that’s what I know,” Serina said. “This is a unique opportunity for me to honor my family and ancestry. I’m really proud to be Filipino. Not a lot of people are familiar with the Philippines and its people and this is a good opportunity for me to spread the word of who we are and what we can do.”

The youngest of four children, Serina has a strong family bond – a trait of the Filipino culture, she said. Her parents, Eliseo and Norma, moved to the United States when both were in their 30s. When Eliseo – a doctor in the United States Air Force – was stationed in West Virginia, Eden was born. The family returned to the Philippines when Eden was young and Eliseo was stationed at Clark Air Force Base. When another transfer brought Eliseo to the base in El Segundo, the Serinas settled on the Peninsula.

Eden developed her competitive nature at school, playing varsity basketball and running track for Miraleste High School, specializing in the hurdles along with 440- and 880-meter races. “I wasn’t really competitive with my siblings growing up, but they are all overachievers and we had many of the same teachers in school so, in that aspect, I was expected to make the grades and it was difficult, especially in sciences.”

Expectations for Eden’s success were evident. Along with her father being a Medical Doctor (retired) and mother having a nursing career, her oldest sister, Elaine, has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and lives in San Francisco, close to her brother Eugene, a Director of Research & Development for a medical device company, who resides in Union City. Enna is a Medical Doctor living in Riverside.

After graduating from New York University, Eden embarked on a career in the world of high finance in New York City – a dream she had envisioned since the age of 5.

“I remember being 5 and falling in love with New York City, seeing pictures of all the tall buildings and thinking I’ve gotta be there,” Serina said. “My parents said that when I was young, I would get all the coupons and add them up on a calculator, so I was already into money, finance and math.”

Serina landed a lucrative job at Solomon Smith Barney at the World Trade Center in New York City. Then came the shocking news. At the young age of 24, Serina informed her family that she was walking away from her 6-figure income and moving to Vail, Colo. Not for a better job, but to become an Olympic snowboarder.

“What?” her father remembers Norma yelling. “We eventually settled down knowing Eden already had an NYU degree and experience to fall back on, so she wouldn’t starve. The whole family supported her 100 percent and personally, I was excited of her trailblazing endeavors, very uncommon to those her siblings had before her.”

Much like her business career, Serina’s drive to fulfill a dream was evident. But this decision raised many eyebrows. After all, she had only been snowboarding for two years.

“In 1997, my family decided to go on a ski trip,” Serina recalled. “We’re not snow people. We’re not winter people. My brother Eugene, who had been snowboarding for about a year, convinced my sister Elaine and me to take a class. The instructor questioned if I belonged in the beginner’s class because I was doing pretty good. That’s when I fell in love with snowboarding.”

After one year of local competition, Serina qualified for the 2000 USA Snowboard Association National Championship and placed second in her division. In less than a year, Serina began competing for the Philippines team on the World Cup circuit. Her father was not surprised.

“When Eden has a mindset to do something, she works hard to master it, and does it as fast and properly as possible,” Eliseo said. “She accepts the challenge to be better not only against anybody but more so against her own limits.”

By the time qualifying began for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Serina had one of two criteria under her belt but narrowly missed the second, a top 25 finish in one of the World Cup Olympic qualifying races. When she achieved the second criteria at a World Cup event shortly after the Olympic Games, it gave her hope for the future.
Serina moved home with her parents but continued to compete, racing in her fourth consecutive Snowboard World Championships in 2007. Utilizing her education, she was employed as a Senior Financial Analyst at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank for two years before leaving – once again – to train for what will be her final chance of becoming an Olympian.

Serina said it was a bitter-sweet decision to leave Disney. “It was easy because I knew I was going back to snowboarding, which I love. It was hard because I had made a lot of really good friends there and re-established a career after 7 years of not working. I’m really thankful to Disney for giving me that opportunity. I felt that I wasn’t done snowboarding and this was my last opportunity and wanted some closure with it.”

The strong support Serina received from her family – emotionally and financially — eased her decision making.
“Eden is not alone in her quest; her entire family is behind her every step of the way,” Elaine Serina said. “Eden qualifying for the Olympics exemplifies the strengths of the Filipino people: hardworking, determined, and persevering. She brings to the forefront the impressiveness of Filipinos, a minority group not often recognized. She will also show by example that one’s dreams can be realized, even for a small country without snow, despite the odds.”

“They’re all amazingly supportive of my goal,” Eden said. “I couldn’t ask for a better family. My mom wasn’t as excited as everyone else but she finally came around. My parents and siblings are professional people but my dad is heavily into sports so I think he likes the idea of having a professional athlete in the family.”
During this past summer, Serina spent five weeks training in New Zealand under the tutelage of Mark Ballard, the highest certified snowboard coach and instructor in Canada. Ballard has coached Serina for two years, becoming her full-time coach in April. Serina, who competes in the parallel giant slalom (the Olympic event) and parallel slalom, is one of 10 riders from Canada, USA, Japan and the Philippines coached by Ballard.
A natural athlete, Serina said she finds the psychological aspect of competition the toughest to overcome and uses a blog as a journal to describe her day, what she’s learned, and what she has to work on, keeping things fresh in her mind the next day.

“The mental and emotional aspects of competitive snowboarding have always been more difficult for me than the physical. You’re really competing against yourself. If you’re not No. 1, you’re losing and it can be difficult to get over each race and mentally refresh yourself for the next race.”

Serina said the book Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life by Michael Lardon, MD, has enlightened her.

“The book has definitely helped me a lot,” Serina said. “I think it’s helpful in life in general. It’s helped me keep more of a mental balance and not over-stress about things. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to have fun and remember why I’m doing the sport.”

Besides family, one of the things Serina misses most when she’s away training or competing is the Pacific Ocean. “When I’m home I try to surf at least five times a week. I would consider myself still a beginner but I just love being out there. The two sports (surfing and snowboarding) are very similar in terms of body positioning, body stance and balance. Paddling is still my biggest challenge. Once I’m on the board, I’m okay.”
In a few weeks, Serina will grab her $1,200 snowboard, snow suit and boots and head off to train at Copper Mountain, Colo., which will host the Snowboarding Grand Prix, one of five qualifying events held from December to February where qualifiers must finish in the top 30 in at least one event. The athletes must also have earned 100 points in the Federation Internationale de Ski’s scoring system. Serina had accrued 56 points at the beginning of September.

When asked of her chances of qualifying for the Olympics, Serina said without a pause, “Very high. I have no doubt.” Her coach wasn’t quite as confident.

“Realistically, with the natural and trained skills and talent she has, it is possible for her to reach the Olympics, but not without her very best,” Ballard said. “While she has had some setbacks with an injury and finances after taking three years off racing, she is very close to hitting her top speed consistently. Her greatest strength would be her positive outlook and athleticism.

“I am excited to be a part of this great journey with Eden, as I love breaking perceptions and barriers. She is an amazing woman and athlete that regardless of outcome is a role model for other woman in her family’s country of origin, the Philippines; USA, the place they call home, and in snowboarding. I am proud to coach Eden in her pursuit to become the first woman from a country that has so many barriers for its citizens reaching excellence attending the winter Olympics. That’s a big part of the beauty of the Olympics to me.”

Serina has more than 130 race starts and appearances in 24 World Cup and 10 World Championship events. She said her best finish was placing 9th in the North American National Championships in 2006.

Her greatest accomplishment she said is being able to represent the Philippines. “Not many people can do that. To have such a passion for a sport that is not anywhere in the culture I think is very rare… and to tolerate the cold, which most Filipinos have an aversion to.”

Whether Serina qualifies or not, she is already an Olympian in the eyes of her family.

“Eden has earned our respect and admiration for the effort and sacrifice she has endured for 10 consecutive years,” Eliseo Serina said. “Qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics is icing on the cake that is already on the pedestal of pride of a family and countries, the Philippines and the United States.”

When the Olympic Games are over, Serina plans to return to the world of finance and pay off snowboarding debts before owning her business. She said she will continue to snowboard, surf and run in local 5K races.

Eden added that she has one other dream she’d like to fulfill. “I’d like to climb Mt. Everest with my dad. That’s a really lofty goal, but my dad, who is 70 years old, has been there and climbed past base camp so he has some experience.”

Just one more mountain for the Island Girl to conquer.

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