Maggie Rose Carrigan, a snowboarding star with Athlone links. Photo: Olympic Federation of Ireland.

Local links of Beijing Winter Olympics hopeful

Maggie Rose Carrigan has defied the odds to compete in snowboarding after being diagnosed with scoliosis at the tender age of ten.

Now she's chasing qualification for the Beijing Winter Olympics in the Parallel Giant Slalom, and is currently competing on the World Cup circuit.

Maggie Rose is named after her grandmother Margaret, and grandaunt Rose, member of the Shine family who grew up the townland of Drumlosh, near Drum, on the Roscommon side of Athlone.

At eleven, Maggie Rose had to have two 14-inch rods inserted into her back and was repeatedly advised to quit snowboarding. She had to sit out all activity for an entire year, but still found another way to pursue her passion.

Maggie Rose's grandmother Margaret and several of her eight siblings emigrated to the United States of America, where she met her second-generation husband at an ‘Irish dance’.

Margaret is now the matriarch of their large Irish-American family in Newark, New Jersey, and Maggie Rose has accompanied her to Ireland and been to visit the family grave in Clonmacnois.

Having endured the setback of failing to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Maggie Rose decided to compete for Ireland.

“I had to decide if I wanted to quit or come at it another way and that’s when I transferred to compete for Ireland,” she said.

She had obtained her Irish passport three years earlier and is particularly close to her paternal grandmother Margaret.

“I am called after my grandma and her sister Rose, who was my father’s godmother,” said Maggie Rose.

“My dad grew up in New Jersey but he loved ski-racing and when he was 18 came out here to study business at the Colorado Mountain College and runs a company selling ski gear now.”

The odds against Maggie Rose Carrigan becoming a competitive snowboarder, never mind chasing Olympic qualification were astronomical when she received some devastating news in her childhood.

Up to then her life in Steamboat Springs, Colorado was idyllic.

“In winter it’s like a snow globe, a dream. We call it ‘hero snow’ because it’s so perfect you can do anything you want on it. I grew up on a lake too so, in summer, we’re water-skiing and wake-surfing and always outdoors.”

Her sister Tory was on the USA half-pipe team and her brother Lex was a junior world champion. Tory and Lex are twins and ten years older so she inevitably followed in their sporty wake. But at aged ten, Maggie Rose was diagnosed with scoliosis. She had to have two 14-inch rods inserted into her back and was repeatedly advised to quit.

Flips and jumps were no longer possible but she could still ride if she switched to alpine snowboarding, the sport’s speed discipline which has no aerial element.

“On my 12th birthday the owner of a board company, who was friends with my dad, sent me an alpine board and I found I could still get the speed and adrenaline," recalled Maggie Rose.

“I couldn’t even bend down to buckle my bindings the first day I got on it but I quickly got into the groove and from then on it’s always been ‘alpine’ for me.”

Alpine snowboards are longer and narrower to harness speed. Riders wear hard boots and bindings similar to skiers and race, parallel in pairs, on slalom and giant slalom courses.

“People often confuse our boards with mono-skis but giant slalom was actually the first Olympic snowboarding sport,” Carrigan explained.

Within four years of switching she’d won her first North-American championship (Nor-Am).

“That opened up a whole other level. After I finished high school, I went to Switzerland for a year to compete in Europa and World Cups, competing with riders that I had watched on TV for so long.”

Maggie Rose had heard of Irish snowboarder Seamus O’Connor on the grapevine so when she wondered if she could represent Ireland he was her first port of call.

She feels it’s no coincidence that she got her best international result – a 22nd in parallel slalom at the 2018 World Cup in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy)- after joining Team Ireland. She was also 25th at the 2019 World Championships in Park City and ranked inside the world’s top 40 that season.

She has since obtained a degree in primary teaching and, during the off-season (April-October), she teaches tots in the Holy Name Pre-School, resulting in some very tiny and cute cheerleaders whenever she races locally.

“It took me four years to complete my degree because I’ve been training and racing but it was worth it. I’m as passionate about education as I am about snowboarding so I will have that when I retire.”

Right now she is totally focussed on Olympic qualification. She opened her World Cup season in Bannoye (Russia) at the start of December and will race in two more (Carezza and Cortina’ in Italy) before she gets home just in time for Christmas.

After everything she’s been through she is particularly keen to advocate for sport and Scoliosis awareness.

“If I didn’t catch it, it could have been so bad yet, if I had caught it earlier, I mightn’t even have had to have surgery so it’s really important to publicise it.

"A young girl in my school was getting the surgery and I was able to talk to her, show her my scar and explain everything. Helping others to understand it is huge for me,” added Maggie Rose.