Two years ago, Kenneth Carson had an epiphany.
The Elk Grove resident was watching snowboarding on TV and noticed one of the riders, a Filipino-American from northern California, was racing for the Philippines.
Carson, a 1999 Laguna Creek High School graduate who is part Filipino and also a professional snowboarder, put two and two together. He applied for Philippine citizenship and within weeks, the country accepted his application for their national snowboard team.
Carson never expected he would compete for another country. But while he was born in the United States and grew up in California, the former Cardinal said joining the Philippine national team meant he can reconnect with his family heritage—and honor his grandmother, a Philippines native and Carson’s link to the island country.
“She’s kind of the foundation of the Filipino-American culture in our family,” said Carson. “This was my way of recognizing the sacrifices that she had made for our family.”
An unusual path
Carson’s snowboard career has always been unorthodox. He started late, picking up the sport after high school, an age when most riders already have years of experience.
Yet Carson, who played high school baseball and has an athletic family background, was a natural. By 2006, he started racing in local events and qualified for the national finals in his age group on the USA Snowboarding Association circuit. Carson’s chosen event was snowboard cross, where groups of riders race each other down a jump-filled course toward the finish line. In his first national finals event, the former Cardinal led for most of the race before wiping out.
The experience gave him a confidence boost.
“I’ve never felt anything like that before to be first place all the way down the racetrack,” said Carson. “I knew at this point, I was coming back and this was something I wanted to do.”
By 2010, Carson began thinking about qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Since he was now a member of the Philippine national team, he was eligible to compete internationally—but he joined the squad shortly before the last qualifying events and missed a spot on the country’s Olympic team.
Still, Carson’s brief run at an Olympic berth raised the stakes for his snowboarding career. Local media had covered his story and area businesses called, offering to sponsor him.
As Carson’s life became more hectic, the pressure started to mount. Even as a professional snowboarder, he still held a full-time job, working at Mikuni Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Elk Grove. And he was also preparing to be a first-time father.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a lot of this stuff done in no time at all, and I think, because of that, I made a lot of mistakes,” said Carson.
Eventually, something had to give. And his body paid the price.
Earlier this year, Carson was racing in his first event of the season at Alpine Meadows when he crashed while going over a jump, sustaining a concussion.
Carson’s physical injuries weren’t severe—he walked away with a sore neck and a bruised ego. But real blow was to his self-confidence.
“After that, my motivation, my patience was at an all-time low,” said Carson. “I didn’t want to travel, didn’t want to incur any more expenses and have something like that happen again.”
Preparing for a comeback
Not long after the crash, Carson decided to end his season and focus on other priorities, like the birth of his son and finishing his bachelor’s degree at Sacramento State.
“The hardest part was to see him hurt and watching how he was affected by it, not just the physical aspect, but the toll by having to step back,” said his father, Kerry Carson.
The healing process took weeks, not days. Carson gradually began working out again, attending kickboxing class with his dad, an instructor at 24 Hour Fitness.
Nine months later, Carson has put the crash behind him. He’s anxious to compete again, looking forward to competing in the upcoming snowboard season with the Philippine team.
Carson even hopes to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I really love that feeling of racing down that track with those guys,” he said. “I don’t have any reason to throw that away, so I’d like to stay with it.”