The world knew Alex Pullin as a supremely gifted, meticulous and fearless athlete, who carved his name on a snowboard. But ‘Chumpy’ was so much more.
The world knew Alex Pullin as a supremely gifted, meticulous and fearless athlete, who carved his name on a snowboard. But ‘Chumpy’ was so much more.

‘Free spirit’ who carved a legacy on and off the slopes

Every Wednesday was sport day at Mansfield Secondary College.

That meant the whole school, all 350 students, practised not on the football oval, but 40 minutes away in Victoria's snow-covered mountains.

World champion snowboarder Alex Pullin, whose tragic drowning on the Gold Coast on Wednesday has shocked the Australian sporting community and reverberated across the world, had a head start on most of his schoolmates.

He had grown up living above the family-owned Pullin's Ski And Snowboard Hire Shop in the Victorian Alps, which his parents ran for 36 years.

Pullin learnt to ski at the age of three. He would win his first of two world titles by the age of 23.

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Alex Pullin was a ‘free spirit’.
Alex Pullin was a ‘free spirit’.

Australia's flag-bearer at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics spent every winter on the mountains.

But in summer he grew up on a yacht.

"Mum and Dad would take the summers off and often not work at all,'' Pullin told The Sunday Telegraph in an interview prior to the Sochi Olympics.

"It was always the 'Why not?' with them.

"It was breaking that stereotype of saying, 'Well, why not?

"They were really into sailing. When Mum was pregnant with me they went around New Zealand and they hit whales and all sorts of stuff.

"When I was only three months old, we sailed out to Lord Howe Island for a month. Just me as a baby.

 

‘Chumpy’ was Australia’s flag-bearer at the Sochi Games. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty
‘Chumpy’ was Australia’s flag-bearer at the Sochi Games. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty

 

"Mum would homeschool us on the yacht and we'd sail around New Caledonia. I'd come back so dark and my show-and-tell at school would be a spear or some type of wood carving.

"In Mansfield, they would have been thinking, 'Who are these kids?''

If the Victorian high-country town of Mansfield didn't know 'Chumpy' Pullin back then, the world definitely does now.

And Australian sport - particularly the tight-knit snow sport community, are indebted to the legacy the 32-year-old leaves.

"Heartbreaking, your incredible spirit will live on,'' Australia's two-time winter Olympian Danielle Scott wrote on Pullin's Instagram account.

Australian sporting great Wendell Sailor remembered Pullin as a kind-hearted person.

"I can't believe this terrible news - one of the nicest humans I've ever met - very sad news," Sailor wrote.

Pullin drowned while spearfishing on the Gold Coast, where it's believed he suffered a shallow water blackout just after 10.30am.

 

Alex Pullin celebrates a blistering run for Australia in PyeongChang. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty
Alex Pullin celebrates a blistering run for Australia in PyeongChang. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty

 

It is understood an on-duty lifeguard was on the scene and that surfers were involved in carrying him from Palm Beach reef.

Another spear fisherman spotted Pullin unresponsive on the ocean floor and alerted a surfer.

The surfer paddled to shore and raised the alarm with lifeguards on a jet ski who brought him to the beach where they and paramedics performed CPR on him for about 45 minutes.

Only two weeks ago, he posted an Instagram photo of himself spear fishing off the Gold Coast.

"Unreal day in the ocean, whales singing & breaching around us," he posted.

"Hanging with great people plus bringing plenty of fish for the week."

Pullin was a much-loved free spirit, whose affinity with mother nature was with him until the very end.

 

 

A supremely gifted, meticulous and fearless athlete, Pullin carved his name in snowboard cross, which is best described as the Formula One of snow sports.

He competed at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and was crowned world champion in 2011 and 2013, before being eliminated as the gold medal favourite in the quarterfinals of the Sochi Olympics.

He returned to Australia disappointed, but far from despondent.

"There's no better way to shatter pressure and expectation by just enjoying what you're doing,'' he said.

And that's exactly what Pullin did.

 

Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin with partner Ellidy Vlug. Picture: Instagram
Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin with partner Ellidy Vlug. Picture: Instagram

 

Be it surfing with long-time model girlfriend Elly Vlug at Narrabeen, spear fishing on the Gold Coast or giving back to his sport, as he did earlier this year, by coaching Australia's rising stars of the snow at a camp in Colorado, Pullin put more into life that what he ever took out.

Not so long ago, Australia was viewed as merely fodder for the European countries to dominate at the Winter Olympics.

"But we rock up on tour now as the Australian team and people know to look out for us,'' Pullin said.

"No matter what happens going forward, I want the world to know who we are.''

They do now, 'Chumpy'.

Rest In Peace.

 

 

Originally published as 'Free spirit' who carved a legacy on and off the slopes


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