Horton, Suki and Andre
Andre and Suki Horton
The world has watched as Tiger Woods carved a path for African Americans in golf. In tennis, it was the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, who’ve broken the color barrier with their vicious serves and incredible stamina. Decades before any of these trailblazing athletes were born it was baseball legend Jackie Robinson who integrated America’s favorite pastime. These athletes have truly been pioneers, opening their respective sports to new generations of young black athletes. However, there are a handful of sports in the United States that as of yet remain mostly Caucasian pursuits. Skiing is one of them. As one avid African- American skier explained to Ski Magazine, “Every time my family and I went skiing, we were always the only black family on the slopes. There’s nothing bad about that, but I guess you like to see that you are not the only one in your group participating in this great sport.”
Many factors are pointed to as an explanation of this, including money—skiing is a very expensive sport to participate in. Also, African Americans have not historically participated in this sport, so it is not something that is passed down to their children. According to a National Brotherhood of Skiing (NBS), an African-American skiing organization, quoted in Ski Magazine, a third factor is geographic, “There are not many African Americans living in resort towns….They are not living in close proximity to skiing on a daily basis from the time they are very young.” A sister-brother duo from Anchorage, Alaska is poised to change this, not only showing that African Americans can ski, but that they can also become ski champions. By 2002 Andre and Suki Horton were the top-ranked African American ski racers in the country, and with their sights set on the 2006 Olympics, they may just become the top-ranked skiracers.
Andre Horton was born in Anchorage, Alaska on October 4, 1979. Little sister Andreana “Suki” Horton followed on May 3, 1982. Elsena, their mother, who was white, had moved to Alaska years earlier and had met and married their father Garry, an African- American stationed at a nearby military base. When Andre was born, Elsena, a native of Idaho and avid skier, wasted no time introducing Andre to the great snowy outdoors. He strapped on his first pair of skis when he was just five. Suki soon wanted to take after her big brother and first hit the snow when she was only three. She told Rocky Mountain News in 2001, “I’ve always wanted to be like Andre. I’ve always wanted to follow my brother.” The siblings became bound through their love of skiing and now are virtually inseparable as best friends and training partners. “One never speaks without the other coming up in the conversation,” noted www.blackvoices.com.
Andre began his skiing life as a Nordic skier, which involves cross-country skiing. “I started out in Nordic skiing, then Nordic jumping and cross-country skiing,” he told Rocky Mountain News, but by age seven he had switched to Alpine skiing, characterized by speeding downhill. Suki also gravitated to this adrenaline-fueled sport. Growing up they spent almost every free moment skiing. They began entering local ski races as pre-teens, racking up wins and impressing the skiing community.
When Andre was 14 he started training with Gordon Stewart of Stewart Sports in Alaska, who would later come to train and manage both Andre and Suki. Horton told Ski Magazine, “I met Gordon when I was a pretty chubby 14 year-old. He’s been training with
At a Glance …
Born Andre Horton was born on October 4, 1979, in Anchorage, AK; born and Andreana “Suki” Horton born May 3, 1982, in Anchorage, AK. Education: Both attend sporadic classes at University of Alaska,
Career: The Hortons began skiing when they were very young, Andre at five and Suki at three; as pre-teens they began to compete in Alpine races; together they make up the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) Elite Team; both Hortons have appeared in a training video produced by Stewart Sports, Anchorage, AK. Suki: member, Western Region Elite Ski team.
Awards: Andre: Alaska State Champion, 1998; first African-American skier selected to the U.S. Ski Team Development Program, 2000; 9th place overall finish in the U.S. Alpine National Championships, 2001; first African-American to win an FIS race in Europe, 2001; 4th place, NorAm Competition, 2001; 1st place, Mt. Bachelor’s Northwest Cup Finals, 2001. Suki: Alaska State Champion, 1998; U.S. Ski Team’s Junior Development Croup, 1997; selected to compete in the U.S. Alpine National Championships three years in a row; 2nd place, Western Region Downhill FIS series, 2001.
Addresses: Home—Anchorage, AK. Management— Stewart Sports, 209 West Dimond, Studio 5, Anchorage Alaska 99515, (907) 566-4055, [email protected] sports.com.
me ever since; now he’s like a brother.” Andre didn’t stay chubby for long. He grew to six foot one and packed on muscle like a bodybuilder. “I didn’t want to play football because I didn’t want to get wrecked and not be able to ski race,” Andre told the Rocky Mountain News. “A lot of my friends would say, ‘You’re huge, man. Why don’t you play football, put padson and hit people. You could go to college and be famous, or something’.” He further explained, “A lot of people put athletics and fame together. I’m not really like that. I like ski racing. I have a passion for it.”
By their early teens, the Hortons had become Alaska state champions and were winning races throughout the Western United States. However, according to www.blackvoices.com, “They determined the races they would participate in based on what the family could afford.” Then, when Andre was 15 he discovered the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS). “I saw two other black-American racers at an FIS (International Ski Federation) race in Oregon. That was totally amazing to me—I’d never seen another black ski racer. They were on scholarships from NBS and told me about the program.” Schone Malliet, NBS Competition Director, explaining the organization to www.blackathlete.com said, “African-Americans, motivated by their passion for skiing, were inspired to create opportunities for young people to pursue the sport, and pursue it competitively.” Malliet continued, “Realizing the financial commitment, the NBS has made it its mission to provide funding, training and support for young African-American men and women in pursuit of an Olympic medal.” It costs about $30,000 to pursue a competitive skiing career. Costs arise from equipment, training, club fees, and travel expenses.
Both Andre and Suki promptly became members and their commitment and athleticism was rewarded with NBS skiing scholarships. Of the three youth ski teams the NBS sponsors, the Elite Team is the top. As of 2002 Andre and Suki were this team’s only members. The NBS’s financial aid, along with their family’s unwavering support, and Stewart’s careful training and management, meant that Olympic gold could become more than an incredible dream for the Hortons. The dynamic duo were finally in a place to actually pursue this goal.
By the time they graduated high school—Andre in 1998 and Suki in 2000—they had not only become ski racing powerhouses, but had taken on a number of other hobbies. Andre learned jazz trumpet and photography and began working part time for the Anchorage Daily News as a photographer for their Perfect Life segments. Suki took up violin, becoming quite accomplished. She also became an avid rollerblader. Both of the Hortons pursued athletics, enjoying weightlifting, interval training, and mountain biking. They even appeared in a training video for Stewart Sports together. However, nothing was dearer to their hearts than skiing and ski racing, and, according to Stewart, they both shared the same goal—finishing in the top ten in the 2003/2004 World Cup and scoring a medal at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
The road to the Olympics is paved not only with hard work and dedication on the part of the athlete, but also on a series of competitions, both national and international. Membership in the FIS is also important as is ranking in FIS sponsored competitions. Both Suki and Andre have competed in FIS events and Andre made skiing history at a 2001 competition in Sella Nevea, Italy when he came in first place in an FIS downhill competition. “Today was a spiritual victory for me,” Andre wrote on the NBS website. “For the 100 or so Italians watching the race, they witnessed the first ever black-American to win a FIS race in Europe!” Making the win more impressive was the fact that the majority of competitors were Italians who were familiar with the course.
Another important step in the Olympic quest is nomination to the United States Ski Team’s development program. Members of the development train with the top U.S. skiers and are considered Olympic hopefuls. In 2000 Andre cleared that hurdle, being elected to the 2001-2002 team. This allowed him the opportunity to train with the U.S. Ski Team at their world class facilities in Park City, Utah. With this appointment, Andre also became the first African American on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team. He scored some of his most impressive achievements training with the U.S. World Cup team in Chile in 2001. In four time trials, Andre beat his teammates. In one of those trials, he finished a full second over the rest of the team. “I was ecstatic!” Andre said on www.stewartsports.com. He continued, “at the team meeting I have never been so red. Dale the Men’s [World Cup] head coach was talking about the day and then said, ‘if anyone could have caught Horton, well… good job Horton.’”
Suki also has been elected to the U.S. Ski Team in the Junior Division. After being hailed for her championship finishes in the Slalom and Giant Slalom races at the 1995 Junior Olympics, Suki made the U.S. Ski Team’s Junior Development Team in 1997. In addition, both Hortons have had the chance to ski against U.S. champions at the U.S. Alpine National Championships. Suki was nominated to compete in this prestigious race three times in a row. She even finished second behind gold medallist Picabo Street at a race in Vermont. A knee injury in 1999 forced her to take time to recuperate.
Both Andre and Suki drew accolades from skiing professionals. Lester Keller, a U.S. Competition Director told www.blackvoices.com, “Andre is probably one of the strongest athletes we’ve got in the national system.” Of Suki, Keller said, “Suki is a tough kid and a strong competitor. She likes to compete and likes to be the best.” The NBS, which has long pursued the goal of having a black skier at the Winter Olympics was also confident of the Hortons’ abilities. “In 2002, I would like to see at least one or two of our youths on the U.S. Ski Team and competing in the Olympics,” Bessie Gay, president of the NBS was quoted in Ski Magazine. “By 2006, I would like to see our youth reaching the podium.”
In addition to their awesome skiing talent, Suki and Andre have impressed the skiing—and sports community at large—with their easy going personalities. Numerous, articles have described them as “goodnatured,” “fun-loving,” and “laid-back.” “[Andre] is a great guy to be around and an inspiration to the other team members,” Keller told www.blackvoices.com. This easy charm, coupled with their wholesome good looks and sparkling smiles, has caused many to bet that the Hortons will become awesomely famous, as media darlings and African-American athletic pioneers. For their part, the Hortons would rather focus on skiing.
Both Hortons acknowledged feeling pressure due to the hope African-American skiers and the media have pinned on them. Of the references to him being the Tiger Woods of skiing, Andre told the Rocky Mountain News, “I’ve thought about the Tiger Woods stuff, but those are huge shoes to fill because he’s talented at what he does.” He continued, “If it works out that way, fine. But I’m trying to keep a level head about it.” Following a devastating knee injury that effectively eliminated Andre’s chances of making it to the 2002 Olympics, he countered the pressure he was feeling by telling www.blackvoices.com. “I know there are so many people who want to see me get into the Olympics. When it comes down to it, it’s Andre Horton who has to make the sacrifices and has to train to get to the Olympics and on the U.S. Ski Team and no one else.”
Suki has also felt the burdens of being considered a pioneer. “There is more pressure because there are people who have helped me along the way, and I want to pay it off,” she told Ski Magazine, referring to the obligation she felt to help NBS reach its goal of having a black skier on the winners podium at the Olympics. Still, like the NBS, the Hortons were committed to the sport of skiing. Though the burden of being a trailblazer was a lot for a young athlete already juggling the hectic schedule demanded of a world-class skier, the Hortons were up for the challenge. Suki summed it up best, again invoking Woods, when she told Ski Magazine, “When I saw Tiger Woods, and the way that everyone started playing golf after he won, I though maybe I can make an impact by making the U.S. Ski Team.” She continued, “I realized that what I do out there could affect a lot of people.”
Rocky Mountain News, (Denver, CO), April 1, 2001, p. 3C.
Ski Magazine, January 2000.
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