High-Flying Snowboarder Gets a Lift from Starbucks

When Gillian Andrewshenko dislocated her shoulder while participating in a 2011 competition in Ontario, it appeared to be a setback for the world-class snowboarder.

Instead of gathering her second-place prize, accepting congratulations from well-wishers and readying herself for future tournaments, she was off to receive medical treatment and begin the recovery process. Bruises and breaks come with the acrobatic jumps and spins that Andrewshenko is called to execute, so she resolutely headed back home to heal in Whistler, British Columbia, and continue her work as a Starbucks store shift manager.

While checking into company health care benefits after her injury, Andrewshenko noticed something that would ease the pain. A link to the Starbucks Elite Athlete Program pointed her to a source of needed funding and scheduling flexibility for training and travel, assuming she met the prerequisites. “I looked at the requirements and I thought, ‘You know, I think I’m qualified for this. I’m on a national team. That’s about the highest you can do,’” she recalled. “So I read up on it and, sure enough, I met the criteria.”

Inspiring Partners to do their Best

Elite athlete support exists “as one of many ways that we inspire our partners to do their best,” according to Erich Ho, who manages the program. To qualify, partners (employees) must be in good standing, average 20 hours a week prior to applying and have been with the company for a year or longer. They must also maintain amateur status and participate at a world-class level in their sport.

Andrewshenko, a Starbucks partner for more than eight years, has been competing at a high level since she was in high school. A Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, Andrewshenko was introduced to skiing as a 9-year-old. When she was 15, she tried her hand at snowboarding for the first time. It didn’t take her long to display a knack for the daredevil flow and creativity slopestyle snowboarding demands. Slopestyle is a freestyle event that’s judged on amplitude, originality and quality of tricks such as elaborate backward flips and launching off obstacles. By the end of her first season, the intrepid teen was wowing judges and attracting sponsorships.

“It was something I took to really quickly,” the 28-year-old recalled. “I knew as soon as I started snowboarding that I would want to compete. I came from a pretty athletic background with soccer, basketball, volleyball and figure skating. I loved the structure of working toward an ultimate goal and having to do dry-land training and strength and competitive training.”

Preparing Beverages at Starbucks and Preparing for the Olympics

While studying music at the University of Manitoba, Andrewshenko came to realize Starbucks hours suited her active extracurricular schedule. Work flexibility was going to be of the essence if she was going to travel the globe to compete as an athlete, so Andrewshenko began working for the company in 2006 and rejoined when she graduated and resettled in Whistler the following year.

In Whistler, she’s able to work at Starbucks and perfect her skills at one of North America’s premier winter outdoor sports destinations. The Starbucks Elite Athlete Program has allowed her to concentrate on a long-range target: the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games. Toward that goal, she took first place at the Sport Chek Air Nation Canada slopestyle event earlier this month, then moved on to the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix in Mammoth, California, where she finished seventh., her best World Cup performance to date.

“The incentives that come along with the opportunities in competition mean having to go further and further, not only in the sport, but in travel to Europe and Australia and New Zealand,” Andrewshenko said. “The Elite Athlete Program has allowed me to focus so much more on my physical health and preparation and recovery. Before, I was scrambling in order to pay for everything. It’s been a huge help. I can’t even describe it.”

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How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants