American extreme athlete
When it comes to sports, Shaun Palmer likes them extreme. If he doesn't get an adrenaline rush from it, it's not worth doing. He started with skateboarding and snowboarding as a boy and over time has tried his hand—quite successfully, it turns out—at mountain biking and motocross racing. He's had this insatiable appetite for speed since his childhood. As his mother told People in 1999, "Whether it was on wheels or on a board, it had to be superfast—he had no fear. I remember once when he was 13, I had grounded him. Well, he jumped out of his second-floor bedroom window, got on his bike and took off. He was like that—always pushing the limits." Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Palmer bristles with self-confidence. In an interview with Pam Lambert and Ron Arias of People, he boasted: "I think I'm the greatest athlete in the world. Michael Jordan just had a basketball. I'm on a bike going down a mountainside. Or on a board flying over 60-foot cliffs. I know there are injuries in football, basketball, and baseball, but it's not, like, death-defying."
Born in San Diego
The son of Tim and Jana Palmer, he was born in San Diego, California, on November 12, 1968. His father left shortly after he was born, and Palmer was raised by his mother and his maternal grandmother, Perky Neely, who watched him while his mother worked at an assortment of odd jobs. With his beloved Perky, young Palmer watched the Winter Olympics on TV and dreamed of someday becoming a downhill ski racer. As a boy he showed a talent for skiing and baseball but was most interested in the relatively new sport of snowboarding. Never formally schooled in the sport, he taught himself to board. "I didn't watch tapes or study other guys—I just figured out what felt right," Palmer told People. By the time he was twelve, he had made his first snowboard.
In his teens, Palmer, then estranged from his mother, was living in South Lake Tahoe, California, with his grandmother. He dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen to join the junior snowboarding tour. "And I've been on the tour ever since," he told an interviewer for Swatch.com. For the next few years he was reigning junior world champion. In 1989, at the age of twenty, he won the world championship at Breckenridge, Colorado, a feat he duplicated in 1990.
Starts Mountain Biking in 1995
In 1995 Palmer borrowed a friend's mountain bike and began spending time with veteran mountain bikers, watching their moves, learning their techniques, and beginning to race now and then. He proved to be a quick study. In the second World Cup race of the 1996 season, held in Nevegal, Italy, Palmer, the new kid on the block, shocked veteran mountain biking observers by finishing the downhill event in seventh place. In July 1996, he won first place in the downhill at the NORBA Championships in Big Bear Lake, California. The event drained Palmer so completely that he could hardly speak after winning. Marti Stephens, mountain biking editor of Racer X Illustrated, told Rob Buchanan of Outside : "He pushed his body to the max, and at the finish line he was bent over, moaning, 'Oh … I gotta get in shape.'" By the end of the biking season, Palmer was number five in the World Cup rankings and seventh in the NORBA National Championship Series. So impressive was his debut that in 1997 he was signed by the Mountain Dew-Specialized Bicycles team to a long-term contract.
Long before he got into biking, Palmer had fallen in love with motocross, racing in local events in Carson City, Nevada, ever since he was a boy. Soon he was competing in extreme snowboarding, mountain biking, and motocross events in Winter X Games competition. At the Winter X Games of 1997, Palmer finished first in the downhill biking competition and first in the boarder X snowboard competition. He successfully defended his boarder X title at the 1998 games. He entered the snocross snowmobile competition and skier X skiing competition at the 1999 Winter X Games, finishing 15th and sixth, respectively. At the same games in 1999, he placed 14th in the biker X competition and first in the boarder X snowboard competition. At the Winter X Games of 2000, Palmer showed a vast improvement in his skiing skills, finishing first in the skier X competition and fourth in the boarder X contest. At the 2001 games, he won gold in the ultracross competition and placed 12th in the boarder X contest. At the 2002 games, Palmer first sixth in the boarder X snowboard competition.
One of the greatest athletes in extreme sports, Palmer also has expanded into business, opening Palmer Snow-boards in 1995. He serves the Minnesota-based company as chief executive officer and also captains the company's snowboarding team. The team's members include Andy Finch, Abe Teter, Alisa Mokler, Chris Nelson, Jonnel Janewicz, and Brandon Ruff. Palmer also serves as a consultant to Activision Inc. in the development of extreme sports video games. His "bad boy" attitude has brought Palmer his fair share of negative press. The fans may love his rebellious spirit, but it's worn a little thin with some of his fellow sportsmen and the media. Helping to redeem him in the eyes of knowledgeable observers is Palmer's undeniable talent. As Rob Buchanan wrote in Outside, "Palmer would have remained nothing more than a minor footnote in the annals of sports thuggery if not for one critical fact. Behind all the posturing and acting out, he was, and is, an extraordinary talent."
|1968||Born November 12 in San Diego, California|
|1980||Makes his first snowboard|
|1985||Enters first junior pro snowboard race|
|1992||Begins drinking heavily after the death of his grandmother|
|1995||Founds Palmer Snowboards|
|1997||Signed by Mountain Dew-Specialized Bicycles team|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1997||Gold medal in downhill biking and boarder X competitions at Winter X Games|
|1998||Gold medal in boarder X competition at Winter X Games|
|1999||Placed first in Swatch Boardercross Tournament|
|1999||Gold medal in boarder X competition at Winter X Games|
|1999||Won dual slalom biking event at NORBA National championship|
|2000||Won Pike's Peak Hill Climb auto race|
|2000||Gold medal in skier X competition at Winter X Games|
|2001||Named Action Sports Athlete of the Year by ESPN|
|2001||Gold medal in ultracross competition at Winter X Games|
|2002||Won skiercross event at Gravity Games|
Address: Shaun Palmer, c/o Palmer Snowboards, 7150 Boone Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, MN 55428.
"Shaun Palmer." Biography Resource Center Online. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.
Lambert, Pam, and Ron Arias. "Going to Extremes: Sports You Wouldn't Try on a Bet, Shaun Palmer Risks His Life and Limb for." People (February 22, 1999): 67.
Ruibal, Sal. "Is This the World's Greatest Athlete? Free-Wheeling Punk Rocker Excels in Emerging Sports." USA Today (May 1, 1998): 1A.
Ruibal, Sal. "Palmer Parks Bike to Fish Bass, Chase Olympic Gold; King of Extreme Has Unfulfilled Dreams." USA Today (March 24, 2000): 12C.
"Shaun Palmer." EXPN.com. http://expn.go.com/athletes/bios/PALMER_SHAUN.html (February 2, 2003).
"Shaun Palmer." Palmer Snowboards. http://www.palmerusa.com/about/shaun_palmer.asp?cat=about (February 2, 2003).
"Shaun Palmer: Perhaps the World's Greatest Natural Athlete." MountainZone.com. http://classic.mountainzone.com/snowboarding/99/interviews/palmer/ (February 1, 2003).
Sketch by Don Amerman