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How Skateboarder Leticia Bufoni Is Training for the Tokyo Olympics

With the Summer Games postponed one year due to the coronavirus, the Brazilian street star was forced to adjust her training schedule and regimen. But her Olympic dreams remained the same.

When street skater Leticia Bufoni launches into the air off the top of a ramp, time seems to slow. Her tattooed arms spread wide like an eagle’s wings, fingers outstretched and eyes laser-focused on the board as it nears impact with the pavement below. Upon landing, it’s a swift transition to the next big trick.

The 27-year-old Bufoni has used her momentum to fuel her dreams of being a pro skateboarder since she landed in Southern California from her hometown São Paulo, Brazil, in 2007. Now, with five X-Games gold medals to her name—including a win in Shanghai last year that tied Elissa Steamer's decade-old record for most gold in women's SKB Street—Bufoni is focused on training for next year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, where her sport is set to make its Olympic debut. 

In the gym, unilateral weight-lifting exercises help Bufoni increase balance and core strength, while running on the treadmill, jumping rope and playing soccer build her cardiovascular fitness. In the skatepark, the Red Bull athlete sometimes spends four hours a day practicing tricks, but if she’s bailing down cement stairs, she cuts down her training time by more than half because of the stress it puts on her joints. 

Sports Illustrated caught up with Bufoni to talk about her training routine and diet leading up to the Olympics and how she managed quarantining at home earlier this year.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lily Reavis: What does your daily routine look like, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed?

Leticia Bufoni: So, first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is eat breakfast and check my phone, of course. And on a normal day, when the COVID is not happening, I train at the Red Bull gym in Santa Monica. So I drive to Santa Monica—it’s about a 40-minute drive—I train for a couple hours, and then I do a PT session to stretch if I have an injury. Then I come home for lunch, I chill for a little bit and then I go skate in the afternoon. Then I skate for three to four hours, depending on the day. Every day we do a couple hours of training and then PT.

LR: So you do physical therapy whether you’re injured or not?

LB: Yeah. We do a lot of training—functional training, balance training—and stretching. PT helps everything move better.

LR: You mentioned a couple meals in there. What do you eat in a day?

LB: In the morning, I always do oatmeal and banana and granola. And then post-workout, I do vegan protein. And then I come home and I eat tofu, rice, beans, salad. I don’t eat meat or chicken so I do a lot of tofu, Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat. I do a lot of Brazilian style food, which is rice, beans, salad.

LR: All of that sounds like vegan food. Are you a vegan?

LB: I tried to be a vegan for a little bit, it only lasted three months because I started traveling a lot. Sometimes you go to places like China and there’s no options. So I eat cheese. I don’t drink milk, I don’t eat eggs. But sometimes when I’m traveling for long and I can’t find tofu or Impossible Burger, I just eat fish. But that’s once in a while. Even in LA, I try to stay 100% vegetarian/vegan. But when I’m traveling it’s a little bit harder.

LR: How often would you say you wipe out or get injured in training?

LB: It depends more on the schedule. If I have a really busy schedule with more competitions, of course I’m skating more, I’m training more and I’m risking more, so I get more injuries. Last year I had a couple injuries—bad ones. If I’m just skating, like right now when I'm just training and not trying anything hard, I’m not filming on the streets. Right now, my body’s at 100%. I took a long break too. At the beginning of the quarantine, I was just skating in my backyard. So it gave me time to really take care of my body and rest. 

LR: When you do recovery like that, is there anything else that you do that really helps you recover from wipeouts or injuries?

LB: When I’m really sore from skating and training, I go to the lake. If I’m really tired or if I skated a lot, I’ll just take the day off and go to the lake and go wake-surfing. That’s my third favorite sport, besides skateboarding and soccer. You’re in the water and wake-surfing is super easy on the body and you’re swimming. You’re still active. If you want to recover and just stay home and do nothing, it only gets worse. So you have to stay active.

LR: Are there any specific workouts that you particularly enjoy or think help you become a better skater?

LB: At the training and workouts we do at the Red Bull Gym, the trainer always makes my workout really fun, so that way I’m not bored. He throws some soccer and stuff in there, so it ends up being like a workout activity and really good for your body. So every time I go there and I train with them, it’s just like I’m having fun and I’m doing an activity. We do a lot of functional training, a lot of bodyweight training, a lot of balance training. In skateboarding, you need a lot of balance.

LR: Skateboarding is a bit of a nontraditional sport and has never been in the Olympics before, so what other sorts of things do you think are important for a skateboarder that you might not expect for other sports?

LB: Health is the number one priority. You have to eat really healthy and take care of the body, because skateboarding is really hard on your body. Skateboarding has never been in the Olympics before and a lot of people don’t think skateboarding is a sport, but it really is. You’ve got to train, you’ve got to eat healthy. You’ve got to work out, you have to take care of your body, you need to recover, you need to eat healthy, you need to get sleep.

LR: Leading up to what was supposed to be the Summer Olympics, what did your training look like?

LB: Before all the COVID happened, I was training. I broke my foot last year, so I was out for a little bit and then I was just starting to train again. I was getting better. My foot was 100% healed, then I was just ready to start competing in the qualifying. I was ready to go—my mindset, everything—was ready to go. And then in March they said the Olympics was going to move to next year. It was kind of a bummer for us, but at the same time with what is happening right now, there is no way they could have kept the Olympics this year. So I think they made the best decision and it’s going to give us more time to train, more time to get ready. Time’s flying, it’s coming quick.

LR: What are you focusing on as you’re training for next year?

LB: Right now, I’m focusing on skating a lot and not getting injured. That’s my focus. Because if you get injured, there’s nothing you can do. So I’m focusing on that right now: not pushing the limits, not trying anything that’s too hard. Just training every day, getting my body at 100% and just being ready. Because this season is going to start in January and it’s not going to stop until the Olympics. Your body needs to be at 100%.

LR: When you’re training like you are now, how many hours per day do you spend on the skateboard?

LB: It depends on the day. Some days I skate for four hours and then stop. Some days I go out and I just skate for two hours and I’m over it. And it depends on what trick you’re trying, what obstacle you’re skating. If I start skating just the stairs, I’m only going to skate for like an hour and a half, max, because it’s a lot of impact so you get really sore. But if you’re skating everything else, then you can skate for longer. And if you have more people skating with you, you have more time to take breaks in between tricks, so it depends on the day. But I never skate less than an hour and a half or two hours.

LR: Looking forward to one calendar year, where are you hoping to be?

LB: In a year, I hope I’m sitting down in my house with my Olympic medal. My goal right now is to make it to the Olympics, to make the team, and of course if I make it, I want a medal. That would be my dream life. I’m really excited. I can’t wait. I want to be competing again and I want to be in Tokyo already.