Starbucks Barista Finds Fulfillment in Competition, Creativity and Coffee

You might say that anyone who rides rails and executes daring flips on a snowboard is a little bit different, but Kaily Blackburn stands out even among her extraordinary companions on the slopes.

A barista trainer at a Starbucks in Denver, Blackburn credits the company with providing the scheduling flexibility and access to benefits that allow her to pursue an unconventional athletic career.

For starters, less than a decade ago she’d never been on skis or a snowboard.

“My brother and I got snowboarding lessons when I was 16,” Blackburn recalled. “I was pretty competitive with my brother when I was growing up and I had to be better than him at something. After I surpassed him, I wanted to do more, so I started doing competitions here and there.”

Blackburn’s profile as a competitive snowboarder was on the rise in 2012 when she suffered a serious injury. Helicoptered to a Denver hospital after she crashed into a rail while snowboarding, she began to reevaluate her approach to the high-pressure competition circuit.

Blackburn stepped back from competing and discovered that coaching others offered the perfect outlet for her passion, which prompted an invitation to Norway to train young snowboarders. Unable to enlist filmmakers to help her accumulate footage of her first overseas trip, she purchased a camera and taught herself the fine points of filmmaking.

“I started to see the value in telling people my story,” Blackburn said. “I traveled on my own and it was scary. That made me think, ‘Maybe I should make a documentary of the whole thing to share and hopefully encourage other women and younger people that they can do something like this on their own.”

Last fall, she released the chronicle of her Norway adventure, “Now or Never.” She’s currently working on a second effort that follows her travels and athletic exploits.

“I show more of the lifestyle part of what I do, and the heartache in it, rather than just the best shots of the snowboarding,” she said. “I want to show more than that.”

Last year, Blackburn started as a barista at a Starbucks a block from the Denver house where she grew up. She finds that the job complements her unusual outlook and schedule.

“After I was hired, my manager and I discussed how I could pursue a professional athletic career and how I could balance things,” Blackburn said.

She’s happy to work weekends and hit the slopes during the week. The health insurance that Starbucks provides and the prospect of returning to school through the company’s College Achievement Plan serve her short-term and long-term aims.

Meanwhile, sponsors, who provide essential support in the competitive snowboarding circuit, see the appeal in Blackburn’s approach.

“They’ve told me that they like what I’m doing and that different people are responding to it,” she said. “That told me that you don’t have to chase the contest dream. You don’t have to spend your days training. You can have a little bit more fun.”

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