Read the Spanish-language version of this story here.
MEXICO CITY -- Robert Franco, a slopestyle skier, trains on a rugged gravel hill in Iztapalapa, east of the capital.
Gravel and snow aren’t often associated with each another, but the gravel has to do when Franco can't trek around the globe scoping out an ideal snow-packed mountain. It’s all done with one goal: competing for Mexico in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
For the first time since Salt Lake City 2002, Mexico will have more than one athlete participating in the Winter Olympics: Franco in slopestyle and Sarah Schleper and Rodolfo Dickson in giant slalom.
All three finance their own training, which Franco confessed was more difficult than the actual preparation for competitions.
"The thing that makes it difficult is it gets more expensive because I have to travel to places that have it [snow],” Franco said. “So when I'm training here in Mexico, I'm working on my injury prevention and on building strength."
The California-born Franco, 24, has dual citizenship through his father from Guadalajara. Two top-30 finishes in qualification earned him a spot in the Olympics: a fifth place in the World Cup in Italy and 18th in Canada.
Dickson, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and also bears a financial burden for his Olympic training.
"Funding for my sport has really been the hardest part leading up to the Olympics. I’m very lucky to have an amazing mother that has sacrificed a lot of her income for my dream," Dickson said.
Schleper will compete in her fifth Olympics, but it's her first representing Mexico. She doesn't let the money interfere with her dream and is even organizing a skiing school in her native Colorado to find future representatives for Mexico.
"I want to create a Mexican team that can obtain good results in the Olympics in the future. I have a son [Lasse] who is training and other kids who were born in Mexico," she said about the group of 12- to 14-year-olds in Vail.
After marrying Mexican Federico Gaxiola, Schleper came out of retirement to compete for a country that gained special meaning to her.
"Many people think it's wrong to switch countries to compete, but for me it's very natural to keep competing and for Mexico, which is my favorite country in the world; I love being Mexican," she said while training in Austria.
Despite few ski resorts in Mexico, where winter snow is common in the northernmost states, all three competitors believe there is untapped talent in the country.
"We just need to believe in the athletes and have a better program for the individuals. Mexico has lots of people, and I guarantee there is a kid out there destined for a gold at the Winter Olympics," said Dickson, who has dreamed of a gold medal since he was 6 years old.
“The culture is amazing, that's what makes Mexico so great; it's so much love and passion,” Franco said. “When I show my family that I'm going to be able to represent Mexico doing the sport I love, they just 100 percent back me up even more and say 'congratulations’ and continue to promote me to people that have never even seen snow.”