At just 19, Nick Goepper made it to the peak of his sport in 2014 when he landed on the podium at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, alongside fellow American freestyle skiers Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy.
Returning stateside, however, had its challenges.
The bronze medal winner threw rocks at several cars in the midst of a bout of anxiety and depression while home in Indiana in August 2014, authorities said. He later came forward voluntarily with what he’d done, paid back his victims and apologized, and a criminal charge against him was eventually dropped via a diversion program.
Now 23, Goepper says he is not only older but wiser, with his focus now not just on improving his physical health but on maintaining the mental balance he had to discover off the snow.
It’s paying off: He finished second — the highest of any American — at December’s Dew Tour Breckenridge, the first event for selecting who will make the U.S. ski team at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
Goepper recently spoke with PEOPLE about the last few years, and what he’s looking forward to should he return to the Games. (On Sunday, Goepper moved closer to qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team when he finished second at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen Snowmass, Colorado — in the fourth of six qualifying events.
Asked if he has his eyes set on the top of the podium this go-round, his answer is short: “Definitely. I wouldn’t go for any other reason.”
He was joined by his mom, Linda Goepper, for the chat. This interview has been edited and condensed.
PEOPLE: Can you catch us up on some highlights in between 2014 and 2018?
Nick: “After the Olympics in 2014, it was sort of a whirlwind for me personally and professionally, but it was a really exciting time afterwards, a lot of fun times with my friends and my family and I got to do some really cool stuff. We were sort of able to ride that train for a little bit and afterwards. It’s weird — when all the Olympics hype dies down, you’re like on this crazy high and then all of a sudden it comes down and it’s back to normal life. It was kind of hard to get used to at first.”
For people who got an idea of who you were four years ago, how has Nick Goepper changed?
Nick: “Every year I look back at the decisions I made the year before and I’m like, ‘Wow, I would have totally done that differently,’ or ‘I can’t believe I went to that thing with my friend.’ Definitely I notice myself growing up more and getting wiser. I’ve taken my physical fitness more seriously lately. And I really think I placed more importance on my relationships with my friends and my coach and my family, and that was something that I took for granted a few years ago. I sort of assumed everyone was in my corner all the time.
“I’ve also just put a lot more things in perspective: For 19-year-old Nick, skiing was everything, skiing was the end-all, be-all in what defined me as a successful person. But now skiing is still incredibly important, but it’s like 50 percent of me now and the other 50 percent is my personal life, family, my hobbies and I’ve really tried to figure out how to balance it out more, because the highs were a lot higher and the lows were a lot lower when skiing was everything.”