Long before professional athletes like Michael Phelps and the Diaz brothers were open about using cannabis, Ross Rebagliati was cast into the public spotlight for a practice that few would deem synonymous with increased athletic ability—but for the Olympian, smoking pot has proven to be just that.
The first person ever to win a gold medal for snowboarding in the Olympics—and to be stripped of said medal for smoking marijuana, only to later have it reinstated—Rebagliati is eager to share the benefits of using what he refers to as a performance-enhancing substance.
“From my own experience, I’ve found that it helps me really focus on my workouts—not just when I’m there [at the gym], but also to get me there in the first place,” the athlete and entrepreneur tells the Georgia Straight from his home in Kelowna.
“It gives me that extra little bit of inspiration and motivation to get out and do it again for the millionth time,” he adds.
It’s precisely that induced excitement, Rebagliati says, that helped make him faster and stronger in his training leading up to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
Although Rebagliati, 45, is no longer preparing for international competitions with gruelling three-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week workouts, he still likes to use cannabis for endurance sports like cycling.
Using a vaporizer that he conveniently stores in his jersey while on the road, Rebagliati says a good puff not only helps block the pain of lactic-acid buildup in his muscles but also sets him in motion to surpass his previous day’s mileage.
“There are moments when I start to say ‘That was good, you can turn around now,’ but instead I tell myself ‘Let’s beat yesterday’s time,’ ” he says.
Without naming names, he says he’s aware of many athletes who use cannabis to give them added drive and to help manage pain, but he notes that more often than not, dollars and cents get in the way of their ability to publicly advocate for the drug’s benefits.
“There are athletes in all sorts of different positions, with sponsorships and contracts, and sometimes they say things about cannabis use, but a lot of times, they aren’t in a position to speak out because they’re worried about losing corporate relationships,” he says. “I don’t feel like I have anything to lose.”
Asked if he thinks athletes will ever reach a point where they can be open about getting high, he points to the increased use of marijuana by seniors as an indicator of what’s to come for the sports world.
“The senior population is coming around, which might go against people’s intuition, but if you look at it pragmatically, they’ve gone down the pharmaceutical road their whole lives, so with the research coming out and it being natural, it makes sense.”
For Rebagliati, the notion that cannabis can be part of a healthy lifestyle for athletes and couch potatoes alike isn’t a foreign one.
It’s precisely this idea that Rebagliati hopes to deliver through his company, aptly named Ross’ Gold. “We champion medicinal cannabis use in a responsible healthy fashion and promote its benefits to the athlete in all of us,” its website mission statement reads.
“I’m not marketing to athletes, but it’s more of a message that there’s potential in each of us, and cannabis can be part of that potential,” Rebagliati says.
Although the idea for Ross’ Gold began percolating after his rise to fame in 1998, it wasn’t formally launched until 2012.
With a current product line consisting of glassware, apparel, vaporizing pens, and grinders, as well as a promise that several Rebagliati-approved strains of medical-grade cannabis and cannabis extracts are on the way, he says it was hearing about patients’ dissatisfaction with the mail-order cannabis stipulated by the Har-per government’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations program that put him on the path to creating Ross’ Gold with business partner Patrick Smyth.
With legalization pending, Rebagliati hopes to open upwards of 100 stores through a franchising program in the next five years. The first is about to open in Kelowna.
When he’s not managing his business or putting miles on his bike, Rebagliati is a family man. Without hesitation, the father of three says that using cannabis makes him a better parent.
“Parents need every healthy advantage that they can get,” he says. He notes that—although being a parent is “one of the best experiences in life”—making the most of that experience every day “can sometimes be tough”.
Referencing the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”, Rebagliati says parents have an alternative to alcohol and prescription drugs. “Cannabis is a healthier choice, and really, it should be known as a family-oriented substance rather than alcohol.
“It’s something nonaddictive, noninebriating that reduces anxiety and enables you to be a very in-tune parent, and I think more people should think of cannabis in this way,” he says. “If there is a stigma, there definitely should not be.”
As for marijuana’s rep among athletes, he encourages those who use it to continue doing what they’re doing, without apology.
“In moderation, cannabis can be a really healthy part of your life, and athletes that choose cannabis over doping or painkillers should really be proud of themselves.”