By Philip O'Connor
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - The only thing more surprising than American Kaitlyn Farrington winning halfpipe gold at the Sochi Olympics on Wednesday is the story of how her early career was funded - by selling the family's livestock.
Snowboarders like Shaun White can command millions of dollars in endorsements, but Farrington, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho, had to make do with more modest means when she set out on the path to Olympic gold.
As her stature as a snowboarder grew, the only way for her family to fund her burgeoning career was to sell off the cattle on their ranch, one at a time.
"When I started competing in bigger events, my dad had to sell his cows just to get me to those bigger events across the country," the 24-year-old told a news conference.
"I think the cattle sales were Wednesday, so before I'd go to school, I'd help my dad load a cow up into the trailer, maybe two, and he'd take them to the cattle sale and auction them off.
"My parents have been backing me from day one, and I'm sure they do not miss those cows today."
A surprise winner ahead of Australia's defending champion Torah Bright and compatriot Kelly Clark, the 2002 gold medalist, Farrington told reporters that her background as a cowgirl helped her become an Olympic champion.
Farrington had to come through both rounds of qualifying before reaching the final, but that was by no means the first obstacle she had faced in her career.
She suffered several knee injuries in her teenage years, and finished the 2011-12 season with her wrist in a protective cast following a fracture.
A year later, she broke her thumb so badly in a training run fall in Quebec that she required surgery to insert pins. She was back riding the following day.
"Growing up on a ranch made me the person I am today," she said. "It definitely made me a tough girl. As my parents have been saying this whole journey, 'just cowgirl up'. That's kind of what I've gotta do."
Farrington showed plenty of frontier spirit in the halfpipe final as well.
"Today I fought to get in finals, I did all three rounds, so to come out on top, I couldn't believe it," she said.
"After my second run I had to sit there and watch all the other girls come down. Once I knew I was on a podium spot, I was so happy about that."
(Editing by Toby Davis)