In a sport where fractions of a second separate good from great, Whitney Gardner just landed a spot among the great.
The South Tahoe native recently made the 2012-13 World Cup Team for ski cross. Between classes at University of Utah, the 18-year-old is training with Olympic athletes in Park City and is one step closer to joining their ranks for the 2014 Olympics.
"It's insane, the athletes in there are so incredible. These people are Olympic athletes and this is what I have to do to be an Olympic athlete," Gardner said. "It pushes me so hard and it's crazy to think that I am among them. I'm just doing what I love to do."
What Gardner has loved to do since her grom days at Heavenly is ski, more specifically race. It was that racing background that helped Gardner pick-up ski cross quickly and ultimately earn her a bid at the Junior World Champions March 16-20 in Valmalenco, Italy.
Ski cross, like Gardner, is relatively new to the professional ski scene. It combines top racing speeds with slope style terrain while four skiers battle for position through the track. The event made its Olympic debut in 2010, taking a page from boardercross, which emerged in the 1997 X Games.
After its successful debut, ski cross is back on the schedule for the 2014 and without a doubt Gardner is working to earn an Olympic spot.
"It's kind of a long shot, but a lot of things I thought were long shots have worked out," Gardner said. "So it's definitely a possibility and I'm going to do everything I can to make it."
Long shot is certainly how Gardner would describe making the World Cup team this year. She was speechless when she met with the team manager to review next year's schedule and it was casually mentioned that she was part of the team this year, too.
Gardner knew she was slated to race at the opening World Cup match in Telluride Colo. on Dec. 10, but that was supposed to be it. The Telluride race already felt like plenty of a dream come true because typically there is only one ski-cross spot available on the World Cup Team.
Unknown to Garnder, however, two new spots were created this year and the 18-year-old from Tahoe made the cut.
"I was raised to never give up on things and taught that they'll fall into place," Gardner said. "I was a little skeptical on that, but now I totally believe it."
Gardner is the perfect storm of speedy racer and big jump freestyler that is a combination needed for ski cross, brother and coach R.J. Gardner said.
Together with her brother, Gardner will travel to Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic as she takes on the world in ski cross. She's especially excited for Sochi, Russia.
"I get the chills just talking about it," Gardner said. "That's where the Olympics are going to be and so it's just going to motivate me a little more to make the Olympics in a couple years."
As for making the Olympic venue, R.J. Gardner has no doubt he'll see his sister there some day.
"She's very motivated. We have four kids in our family and none of us have a better work ethic than she does," R.J Gardner said. "She goes out and hits the gym and trains to be in the shape she needs to be. It was all her to get to this point."
It's that slow and steady work ethic that sets Gardner above the rest, R.J. Gardner said, and the dedication will be a difference maker down the road.
"She takes her time and she's nice and slow with everything else," R.J. Gardner said, "then she gets on the course and lets it all out."