“We have no maps. We’re lead by heart, and our aim is true: Progression. Gold medals. Experiences. It’s different for each of us”.

Torah Bright can remember the first time she tried snowboarding. It was a terrible day at Thredbo, it had been a bad start to the season and there was hardly any snow. Few runs were open, hundreds of people crowded onto the ones that were, the Bright kids were bored.

For something different her mother Marion signed 11-year-old Torah and her older brother Ben up for a snowboarding lesson. She tagged along behind Ben, taking the turns he did, taking the jumps. Suddenly, she saw the mountain in a completely new light. One run and she was smitten.

“When I snowboard, the mountain is like a blank canvas I can paint my way down,” Bright says. “Snowboarding ignites my creativity. It is my method of self-expression. Snowboarding for me isn’t about getting down the mountain first. It is all about me and my board and what I can push myself to do.

“It’s about riding to the beat of my heart.”

Flash forward to 2012. Bright is still riding to the beat of her heart. But her heart is breaking. Her whirlwind marriage to American snowboarder Jake Welch is crumbling; one of her closest friends, Canadian skier Sarah Burke, died after a skiing accident in Utah; her form, off the back of a gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, was below par. It was her darkest hour.

“I remember my brother Ben saying he was watching me train … and wondering who was riding my board, that it wasn’t me, that’s how it felt,” Bright says.

After two years of therapy Bright realised it was her marriage that was making her miserable, her marriage that was at the core of all her troubles.  In 2013 she filed for divorce, meeting Welch to let him know of her decision and then cutting all ties.

“Instead of hating myself and trying desperately to repair a marriage I deep down always knew wasn’t right, I chose me. It wasn’t easy. I still believed I was in love with him. Letting go was painful and difficult. However, the intense relief I felt alongside the grief signaled that this was the right move. The fog that lurked for so long was lifting and I could clearly see the winter ahead.”

She remembers being back on the snow for the first time after making some heavy decisions.

“It was almost instant, my life force was back,” she says.

“The moment I touched the snow it was crazy, I felt balance, I felt joy. It wasn’t snowboarding that was the problem, snowboarding has always been a love and joy and part of me, as soon as I hit that snow I knew I’d made the right decision. I felt like that 11-year-old girl again.”

Bright’s had six months at home in Cooma, her first summer in Australia since she was 13. She’s enjoyed the best Australian winter in years – “I can’t remember the last time we had a real powder day in Australia” – and Christmas Day on the beach. She needed to come home and recharge after the Sochi Winter Olympics where she entered all three events, the slopestyle, the half-pipe and boardercross, coming away with a silver medal in the half-pipe, Australia’s first medal of the games.

And she’s written a book, It Takes Courage, “an inspiring story of strength and determination” is the tag. And you’re thinking, another cliche-filled book from a 20-something athlete (she was 28 last December) who’ll tell us to just do it, or reach for the stars or some other aphorism. A book of placings and statistics and sponsors names.

But it’s not. The book comes straight from her heart. It’s an honest account of a marriage breakdown, of loss, and the strength that friends and family can bring when times are at their toughest.

“I like to keep it real and raw,” Bright laughs, and she laughs often. “Why not!  My parents raised me to be an honest, kind human being.

“When people have shared their life and journey with me, that has helped me to overcome some obstacles, and I felt it was almost my duty to do the same. To tell the story the way it was and not just make it fluff because life isn’t fluff, it’s hard and it’s real.”

Bright admits she’s not afraid to fail, that the fear of failure holds a lot of people back.

“It has held me back at points in my life, especially through my snowboarding career, but the day to day battle with yourself on the mountain, half the time you’re failing, more than half the time.

“It’s been drilled into me you’ve got to be bucked off the horse in order to get back on and try and make it better the next time.”

Those of us who know Bright only from her Olympic performances, from her television appearances and sponsorship photos, we never would have guessed there was anything wrong. Sure her form was a little down, but athletes go through periods like that. All through her darkest hours, the Bright smile was still shining.

“There was this idea of Torah on display, a kind of ‘fake it till you make it’ period I went through. Life is hard, you’re given hard things to get past but you power through and you move on.

“You have to put the intention out there of how you want to feel, it wasn’t a facade, I was pushing through the pain and I wore a smile when I was doing it.”

She says getting through it all has been the “greatest triumph of my life so far”.

She says there’s nothing harder than the stress of your personal life not being right.

“The things that matter most to you in your personal life, your family and friends, it was very hard to accept that it was never going to be the way I thought it would be. There’s nothing more I want more out of life than to be loved and to love, that’s just human nature.”

She says she’s learnt to be more selfish, to put herself first.

“You can’t give to other people if you aren’t giving yourself what you need, if you’re not nourishing yourself first.”

She headed back overseas in January, now in the United States, back on the snow, working towards the 2018 Olympics in in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

For Bright, now, every run is part of the journey, whether it’s at Thredbo or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She stands at the top of a run, at the peak of a mountain, or the lip of a half-pipe and believes in herself.

“Everyone has a journey, they’re all so so different. if you were to read this book I’d like you to take away that anything is possible. When life hands you lemons, make beef stew.

“We, as human beings, are capable of so much. To find the courage to make it all possible is what makes us fully human.”

It Takes Courage, by Torah Bright. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzgGgneXlUw