July 6, 2011: Fort Lewis student and Olympic bronze medalist Toby Dawson (left) celebrates Pyeongchang's win of the 2018 Winter Olympics bid, along with President of South Korea Lee Myung-Bak (center) and Pyeongchang bid chairman Yang Ho Cho (right). Photo credit ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images.
In 1998, Toby Dawson was at a crossroads. He was poised to graduate from Battle Mountain High School in Vail, Colorado, and had an acceptance to Fort Lewis College—but college wasn’t his only life goal. “I’d wanted to make the U.S. Ski Team since the fourth grade,” says Toby, a lifelong skier. He attended FLC that fall semester, but in November took his finals three weeks early so he could make it to the U.S. Freestyle Team Selection event in Snowbird, Utah.
Watch the trailer for Toby's upcoming documentary
Toby Dawson: Lost and Found.
He qualified. He was 19 years old.
And so, after one semester at Fort Lewis, which Toby was drawn to for its small class sizes and outdoor setting, he left to become a professional skier. He took fifth in the First World Cup in 1999, had eight World Cup wins (and 17 podiums), and earned gold in the 2005 World Championships. In 2006, he competed in the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and came home with a bronze medal for freestyle skiing. Despite his Olympic success, however, Toby knew the competition would be his last. “It’s not something you can do forever, and I was afraid of having nowhere else to go,” he says. “I’m very grateful for what skiing brought into my life, but I wanted to do other things.”
Other things like volunteer, coach and run ski camps, and attempt to become a professional golfer—at the age of 31. “I played in a lot of pro-amateur tournaments and celebrity events, but ultimately I just didn’t start early enough,” Toby says. “What drove me in skiing was a desire to be the best in the world. I always felt if I could get close to my competition, I could beat them with my mental game.”
Toby also wrote a book, Twenty-Two Years for Twenty-Two Seconds, which came out in 2010. During the Olympics, Toby became a media mainstay due to his talent and his unbelievable story. Toby had been lost by his birth parents at the age of three in a busy marketplace in Pusan, South Korea. He was taken to an orphanage and eventually adopted by two ski instructors from Vail, but had always wanted to meet his birth parents. In 2007, a Korean tourism organization helped him find his father and brother. “A lot of my life seems like a fairy tale, so people encouraged me to write a book about it,” he says.
In 2010—five years into his retirement—Toby decided it was time to finally return to college. “Coming back to Fort Lewis felt right. I like personal interaction with professors, and I’d also heard great things about the business school,” says Toby, who started in January 2011 as a finance major. “My experience the first time was so great, and I like the community feel, so I was ready to come back and lead a student’s life.”
Toby’s next goal is to achieve business success. His list of post-graduation possibilities includes working in Korea so he can learn the language (and better communicate with his family), earning his MBA, working with the Korean Ski and Snowboard Association or starting a hedge fund with a longtime friend. He’d also love to make a movie about his life, a dream sparked by the documentary he filmed with Jalbert Productions in early 2011 called Toby Dawson: Lost and Found, which aired on ABC April 9.
Of all his adventures, Toby says that being a student again ranks up with the best of them, but he admits it’s been interesting getting back into the college routine. “Learning how to write papers and study and all of it has been pretty weird! But I truly want to be here. That makes the whole process fun and exciting to me.”
Learn more about Toby Dawson here.