Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, a native of Alaska, is the first Yupik Eskimo (Inuit) to be named to the U.S. ski and snowboard team. The snowboard cross racer is making her Olympic debut at the Vancouver Games.
What was it like growing up in Alaska?
Growing up in Alaska is really incomparable to life anywhere else. Traveling around the world and seeing such incredible places makes growing up there even more special. I feel like for those of us who live in Alaska, it's easy to take the beauty and way of life there for granted. It will always be my favorite place on earth.
You were raised in a tiny village of 224 people. What was life like there?
Life there is best kind of life. Rural Alaska is the definition of wilderness. Its pure and unadulturated. The only way in or out of 90 percent of Alaska is by plane or boat. There are no roads. The land is at your disposal, thousands of miles just for you. Its a very cool thing to be from an area where your family has lived for 10,000 years. There really is no describing it. Life is very much how it has been for 10,000 years. The Yupik culture is very much still alive and kids growing up there live just like their grandparents did. A good example of that is this year will be the first time in history that people will be able to have cell phones in rural Alaska.
Records are inconclusive, but it appears that you're the first Yupik Eskimo (Inuit) to compete at the Olympics. Is that something you've thought about?
The day I made the Olympic team, I was so incredibly ecstatic at achieving this milestone in my life. There were so many things in my mind, it hadn't occurred to me at first. My mom paused amidst the excitement and said, "Do you know what this means? You're the first Alaskan Native to make an Olympic Team." We both were a little blown away by this. It was a hugely emotional moment.
Your nickname of "Alaska" - can you explain how that came about?
My name is a bit long and intimidating. Announcers had a hard time with it when I was first on tour, so I think it just became easier to call me "Alaska". My name actually sounds exactly like it's spelled - it must be all of those consonants that get people confused. I'm going to have buy some vowels.
You went to U.S. Space Camp as a kid. Is it like the movie Space Camp?
It's just like the movie Space Camp! I had a blast there; it is so much fun. You spend two weeks at Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral), get a flight suit and do what Astronauts do.
We've heard that you still have aspirations of becoming an astronaut. What are the origins of your interest in space?
When I was little I was in love with all things having to do with space. I had a telescope and wanted to be an Astronaut more than anything. Still the best present I have ever received was an actual galaxy that my mom had named for me when I was 10 - the Callan Galaxy. It came with a certificate of ownership with the coordinates of the galaxy and my name on it. Since then, I've tried to give the same gift to other people but I don't think it garnered the same reaction.
What do you think will be going through your mind when you're at the Opening Ceremony in Vancouver?
I don't know what to expect, I am sure that tears might roll down a little bit. When I think it it right now, I think of the faces of my family and what they might be thinking and feeling. It somehow makes it more special to know that there are people going through this incredible moment with you.
Compiled by Matt Stroup, NBCOlympics.com
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.