Olympic athlete Nick Goepper‘s done this all before — twice, actually.
The freestyle skier and Red Bull athletewon a silver medal in men’s slopestyle at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. The Olympics prior, in Sochi in 2014, he took bronze. Of course, during an interview with PEOPLE, there’s a question about his desire to make it a “box set” with a gold this Winter Games in Beijing. “[I’m] just focusing on my sphere, just what’s right in front of me,” the 27-year-old insists. “When you start to think about the big picture too much, it can pull you away from what’s important.”
What’s important? He says it’s what’s happening in any given, specific moment and what’s within his control — simple things like his breakfast, his sleep regimen. Explains Goepper, “Will Smithhas a really good sort of analogy in that he’s building a brick wall, and to be the best brick wall builder, you have to just lay each brick to be the best in the world that you possibly can, and not think about the entire thing, but just each little brick. And that’s sort of how I approach it.” Goepper isn’t immune to the pressure that comes with his career, though, telling PEOPLE he gets the same amount of nervous as he did as a 12-year-old amateur (back when he sold candy bars to pay for ski passes, a lesson in “entrepreneurial spirit” from his always-supportive parents).
“I’m better at dealing with [nerves] now than I was when I was 12, because, basically, I make sure that on competition day I have checked every box possible to prepare me for that moment,” explains Goepper. “So my body feels good because I’ve stretched a lot and I’ve warmed up. I’m hydrated, so I don’t need to worry about that. I’m listening to awesome music that I just downloaded. So I’m pumped up.”
He continues, “I just kind of make sure that all my ducks are in a row, so in the back of my head, I know that I’m absolutely prepared for this moment. And it makes me combat the nerves a little bit better than when I was 15, and I wasn’t as experienced.”
The Olympian is also better equipped to handle mental health struggles, which surfaced in force for him after Sochi in 2014. It was the post-Games comedown that many athletes have shined a light on, which manifested in anxiety and depression for Goepper, as he’s previously opened up about. “In the last 10 years, I think mental health and mental health advocacy, and training and treatment, has sort of been brought into the forefront of the media, and of businesses, which I think has been really, really positive for people that are struggling, and that need to take care of themselves, or get some help,” Goepper tells PEOPLE. “And so, along with learning a lot of things and gaining a lot of tools for my toolbox over the last 10 years, it’s been cool to see the U.S. Ski Team, and Red Bull even offer these services, or talk about them in sort of a public forum because, before it wasn’t as prevalent.”
Throughout it all, he’s had the steadfast support of his parents, Linda and Chris Goepper. “I got to give credit to my parents for the tough love when I was a kid, because, I mean, there were a lot of things that I was able to do because of my upbringing,” he says.
And though they won’t be able to join him in Beijing, Goepper says his family and friends will be having a 3:00 A.M. watch party when he competes on Feb. 15.
“I’ve got such a good hometown support system back in the Midwest that they’ll all be watching, I’m sure,” he says. “And can’t wait to shout them out on TV.”