Hometown Hopefuls: New Mexico’s Mariah Duran aims for Olympic return in 2024
Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit NBCSports.com/hometownhopefuls for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.
Red or green?
In New Mexico, that question – the official state question, by the way – is not about choice of colors. It’s about chile peppers, the state’s culinary pride, and whether you prefer red or green chile when ordering New Mexican cuisine.
Some choose one or the other. And some, like Albuquerque native and U.S. Olympic skateboarder Mariah Duran, go all in with a single word.
“Christmas,” she says when asked the state question - red and green.
Leave it to a skater to go all in. And in truth, going all in is how the 26-year-old Duran has come from the Land of Enchantment – a place that isn’t top of mind when it comes to skateboarding – to competing around the world, including at the sport’s inaugural Olympic tournament two summers ago in Tokyo.
Duran is currently aiming for a second Olympic appearance next summer in Paris. It hasn’t been an entirely smooth run.
An ankle injury suffered in training earlier this year took her off the board for 10-12 weeks, by her estimation. But she’s been able to compete in Olympic qualifier events, gaining valuable qualification points she’ll need to again secure her spot on the U.S. team. And just last month, she claimed her first X Games gold medal in five years with a win in the Best Trick competition.
As she has her eyes on Paris, Duran says she’s approaching this qualification run feeling more mature than she was going into Tokyo.
“Going into Tokyo, there was no right or wrong way yet,” Duran told NBC Sports recently. “I knew that going in, so with Tokyo … I made sure to adjust and take away things throughout that process of qualifying for that one and take it into this one (for Paris). To make this a little more of a smoother process for me, individually.
“Hopefully, this one will be a lot better, but there was definitely, on top of just the normal athlete stress and preparation, there was the pandemic (in Tokyo). Allowing that to filter out a little bit and I can focus on my process going in – it’s definitely, I wouldn’t say a breath of fresh air, but I definitely feel like it’ll be a lot smoother now. But the competition is only getting more and more intense, so you kind of give and take. It’s kind of like a balance.”
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the entire tenor of the 2020 Tokyo Games, which ultimately took place in 2021. At the Opening Ceremony, Duran walked into an empty stadium with Team USA. She and her fellow skaters then competed in front of empty grandstands.
In Paris, the fans will be back. With that, does Olympic skateboarding have a second chance to make a first impression?
“100 percent,” Duran agrees. “Now we get the actual full experience of being with the crowd. The Opening Ceremony’s probably gonna be full of people instead of an empty stadium. Walking in the empty stadium (in Tokyo) still felt amazing, not gonna lie. I can’t imagine (what it’ll be like) with people.
“But I think it is kind of like a take two. One, for the athletes; two, for the people who organized it; three, for mainly just the Olympics. I totally agree that it’s kind of like our first one. (Tokyo) was, I don’t know, a test or a baseline. We needed a baseline to see where we were at. This one … I’m excited for it.”
But as she herself says, Duran didn’t get into skateboarding as a kid to be an Olympian. She got into it because she simply wanted to do it.
Growing up, however, there was a time when her mother wasn’t entirely assured that there was a living to be had in skateboarding. Ultimately, a deal was made - Duran played other sports such as softball and basketball, in addition to skateboarding. And whenever Duran went to the skate park, she had to have one of her two brothers with her.
Looking back, Duran understands where her mother was coming from (“It’s not like she never supported me, she just wanted the best for me.”). But as skateboarding became a bigger focus in her life, she flourished in the sport’s supportive atmosphere. At the park, she wasn’t treated any different as a girl – she was, simply, a skateboarder.
Nowadays, Duran is among many other skateboarders in the sport’s heartland of Southern California. Having made the move about a year ago, she says that she wanted to immerse herself in the culture and be around more people that skateboard for a living.
But while she may now be in SoCal, she still falls back on the lessons she learned back home in New Mexico.
“Getting good is a mentality,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re at. It’s ‘Do you have the drive and the mentality that you will eventually get to (the next) level?’
“I feel like that is what New Mexico taught me – that endurance to continue to self-motivate myself. Not really having someone to tell me what to do, mainly just wanting to do it because I wanted to do it, wanting to get good because I wanted to get good.”