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Walla Walla's Brandenburg skis from Bluewood to Olympics

WALLA WALLA -- You hear it all the time.

He was born to do this. She was born to do that.

More often than not, such observations are more exaggeration than fact.

But for Will Brandenburg -- a Walla Walla native who will represent the U.S. on the slopes of Whistler north of Vancouver, B.C., in the Winter Olympics -- it's an axiom that is very close to spot on.

Brandenburg, who turned 23 on New Year's Day, had yet to celebrate his first birthday when his parents, Brad and Anne Brandenburg, plopped him into older brother Pat's ski boots and put him on a pair of mini-boards for the first time.

As Brad remembers it, the family -- he, Anne, Pat and older sister Emily -- had planned a December outing at Ski Bluewood south of Dayton.

Will, who was 11 months old, was to remain at home with a baby sitter, but the sitter never showed.

"So Anne said, 'You know, Will's pretty good-sized. I'll bet Pat's old boots will fit him,' " Brad recalled. "We tried them, they fit and we decided this will work."

That afternoon, young Will took to the slopes and negotiated Bluewood's smaller hills tucked safely between his parents' legs.

"We went a couple of times again that same year," Brad said. "And by the following year Will was skiing on his own."

And he's never stopped.

"You could see that he absolutely loved it," Brad said. "He had an unbelievable feel for the snow."

An alpine natural.

Will's siblings, Pat and Emily, were both outstanding swimmers on the Walla Walla YMCA Swim Team, but Will wasn't interested.

"He just didn't really like it," his father said. "So I told him he had to pick some other sport, and he said, 'Why can't I ski race?' "

As soon as he was old enough, Will joined the Bluewood racing team. And after the family moved to Spokane when Will was 9 years old, he continued competitive ski racing, first at Mount Spokane and later at Schweitzer Mountain.

At Schweitzer, Will made a name for himself as a junior racer, and that eventually led to his selection to the U.S. Ski Team when he was 19.

Four years and hundreds of races later, traveling to all corners of the world, he's a member of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and will compete at Whistler Creekside in the super combined event.

"It's an amazing feeling that I can't describe," Brandenburg said in a telephone interview from U.S. Ski Team headquarters in Park City, Utah, where he had just returned from World Cup competition in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

"I'm happy and I'm thrilled to be able to make a big goal that I put out there for myself," Brandenburg said. "All the hard work has come together at the right time.

"I'm pretty speechless, which isn't something I am very often."

It's also a position Brandenburg didn't expect to find himself in as recently as a couple of weeks prior to the announcement of this year's U.S. alpine contingent to Vancouver. A knee injury in 2008 that required surgery in January 2009 kept him off the slopes until October and significantly dimmed his Olympic aspirations.

"I'd had a couple of big falls the summer before last in New Zealand, and I was having trouble pushing through the pain," Brandenburg said. "So in January I decided to have it checked out."

He found he had suffered meniscus damage and a micro fracture that would require surgery. He spent the first seven weeks following surgery unable to put any pressure on his leg, and he wasn't cleared to resume any athletic activity until July.

"For a guy like me, it was brutal," Brandenburg said. "I couldn't run, jump, anything until July 15. "It was a long, long summer and a long road back. But considering last year at this time I couldn't even walk, this is a whole lot better."

Brandenburg said he resumed "running gates" in October and returned to racing in November. But he didn't consider himself nearly at full strength.

"I had spent all of those hours in the gym and not on the snow," he said. "So the season was kind of a rebuilding year.

"But it was taking awhile, and I didn't think I would make the Olympics."

In fact, he sent email messages to his close friends thanking them for their support but confiding that because of the injury "things hadn't come together" as quickly as he had hoped and that he "wasn't going to make it."

Three days after emailing the bad news, something clicked.

"All of a sudden I started skiing really fast," he said. "And I began thinking, 'Maybe they will pick me up.' "

As he studied the U.S. Ski Team's Olympic options, he realized that if there was a fourth spot open in the super combined event he was the logical choice to fill it. "It was a matter of if there were enough spots open. I knew I would be the fourth guy if the chips fell the right way," he said.

And they did.

The super combined is a rigorous event that requires not only speed on the first run, which is mostly straight downhill, but also dexterity to negotiate the slalom gates on the second run.

"You have to be able to go fast and straight and glide," Brandenburg said. "But you also have to be fast in the slalom course, which is difficult because they are totally different ski turns. You have to have a lot of tricks in your bag to be fast at it."

That's right up Brandenburg's alley.

"Being able to do all four events (slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill) is my greatest strength," he said. "I have been able to get good at all four events but I am not yet at the elite or great level in any of them.

"You can't be scared of going fast, that's for sure," Brandenburg said. "I think since I was really little I liked going fast. Speed has never really bothered me.

He says that's because he was so young when he began skiing and is comfortable while racing. "I don't realize that I am going that fast. I'm clocked at 82 mph and I say, 'Wow, that was fast.' But it felt like I was going 35 mph in my pickup truck."

That doesn't mean he's not careful.

"You have to be reckless but you also have to be smart about it," Brandenburg said. "If you are reckless all the time, you won't stay healthy. And if you don't stay healthy you aren't able to get the runs and the experience that you need to get you where you want to be.

"You ski with reckless abandon, but you also know when not to."

Though Brandenburg considers himself a longshot to medal, he's unwilling to discount the possibility. And he believes he could have another eight years of competition to develop to the elite level.

"I don't want to sell myself short," he said. "I'm just going to ski as fast as I can and see what happens. I'm not going to throw it away.

"I've skied every race since I was 6 years old to win, and I'm not going to be holding anything back."

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