When snowboarding great and Red Bull athlete Louie Vito hits the snowy grounds of Aspen, Colo., this week for the 2014 Winter X Games, he will be following a dream that began at the age of 5.
The 25-year-old's journey to be among the world's elite has been one of sacrifice and success. Vito is the current reigning Winter Dew Tour, U.S. Grand Prix and X Games SuperPipe overall champion. He also represented the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics and tested out his dance moves on season 10 of "Dancing With The Stars."
But for Vito reaching the podium again would be a sweet accomplishment, and he's relying on his intense health and fitness regimen to help get him there.
"I always want to be stronger, faster and better," the 5-foot-5, 150-pound snowboarder said during his in-season competitive training in Breckinridge, Colo. "Whatever happens, I want to have no regrets."
After competing in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Vito began focusing on his strength and conditioning program -- which includes not drinking alcohol -- to give him an extra advantage.
"After the 2010 Olympics is when my life changed," said Vito, who's won four of the last five U.S. Grand Prix overall championships, five X Games medals and two Winter Dew Tour Cup overall championships.
"My sport is based on how healthy you can stay and [not drinking] can be the difference between a broken bone or sprain. I don't miss it and I feel good. I can sacrifice [my 20s]."
Vito's life-changing experience began during a final taping of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" in a meeting between castmate Apolo Ohno -- America's most decorated Winter Olympic athlete of all-time -- and Ohno's personal trainer John Schaeffer, a former five-time world powerlifting and super heavyweight kickboxing champion.
"He told me, 'I need four to six weeks from you, and I'm going to take your body to a place it has never been ... and back,'" Vito recalled Schaeffer telling him. As for Ohno, Vito continued, "There's something you can take from each elite athlete you meet. I wanted to be in shape like Apolo Ohno."
Schaeffer initially placed Vito on a progressive treadmill program of short, intense intervals, ranging from 10-14 mph, which made even walking after the workouts a challenge.
"The first couple days I was hurting -- I could barely walk," stated Vito, who was recently selected to ESPN Magazine's prestigious Body Issue. "The first week I was struggling, but by the end of week two I was leading it. This was heaven disguised as hell."
But by the end of week five, Vito said he was on his way to Hercules-like status and credits his fast increase in conditioning to Schaeffer and his structured program.
"I was one of the fastest adapting athletes he's ever had," said Vito, who was a gymnast in elementary school and able to perform 50 bodyweight dips at that time. "But I know I'm with one of the best in the world. [Schaeffer's] more than just a trainer -- he's a sports scientist."
Vito's workouts, which generally last between 10 minutes and one hour, cut out opportunities for texting, changing the music or what he calls "water-cooler talk.” There's also weightlifting days when Vito focuses on lower body exercises, which include running and jumping steps with weights, along with single-leg squats and leg press throws. It's here that Vito believes his snowboarding skills are specifically triggered.
"You train to snowboard," Vito said. "You need to react and adjust at a quick rate."
Looking forward to the X Games, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary and runs from Jan. 23-26, Vito is both confident and optimistic that his training will allow him to succeed. But in the end, Vito just wants to enjoy the ride.
"At the end of the day, [snowboarding] is just a subjective sport," he said. "I've put in my work and time ... but you have to enjoy the journey."
The Winter X Games will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN3 and ABC.
Louie Vito offers Newsday readers the following outdoor winter safety training tips:
Prepare for the cold. Wear a hat, cover your legs and dress warm -- you lose a lot of heat through your head. Take extra time to perform a good warm-up, especially making sure your legs are ready, so you don't tear a muscle.
Stretch. Do this only after a good warm-up -- you want your muscles to be warm. Stretching cold can do more harm than good and even pre-tear muscle fibers.
Cool Down. Always make sure you never just stop after you're done with an outdoor winter training session. Cooling down helps to decrease your heart rate and allows your body to gas-off. It also helps you to prepare for any activity the following day.
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @briandessart.