Shaun White has competed in four Winter Olympics but the veteran snowboarder has, of course, never prepared for a Games during a global pandemic.
The halfpipe gold medalist, 35, will be attempting to make his fifth Olympic run at qualifying events in December and he told PEOPLE that the preparation leading up to the make-or-break competitions has been unlike any other due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown.
Thankfully, White has had the support of his girlfriend, actress Nina Dobrev, as well as family and friends.
"It's been incredible, honestly," White said from Switzerland during the virtual Team USA Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics Media Summit on Tuesday.
Raving about his "beautiful relationship" with the Love Hard star, White said: "Nina's incredible. What an influence on my life. Not only does she run her own show, her own world, companies she's involved in, things she's producing, all this stuff going on. She holds me to this same high standard which is so wonderful to have in a partner."
Dobrev, 32, and White were first romantically linked in March 2020. They made their relationship Instagram official that May when he posted a video of her cutting his hair during quarantine.
White further told reporters about his romance with Dobrev, saying that they make room in their busy schedules to have quality time together. The athlete recalled a time when he tried to visit her in Canada but the strict border restrictions did not allow him to see his girlfriend when she was filming a project.
"That was probably one of the toughest things because I couldn't get into Canada. I tried," he said, laughing. "I was turned around. I was like, 'C'mon I was at the Olympics here. You remember? I cut my hair.' It's challenging, it's hard. But it's one of those things where we have a nice little system of how to stay in touch. Plane tickets are pretty much booked for any opportunity to see one another. I know during the holidays we're going to meet up around Christmastime. Anything that happens in between then, I'll jet over and see her. You just make it work, that's just the goal and key to it all."
Speaking about his family's support, White told PEOPLE that his perspective has changed.
"I used to derive so much self-worth and things from these exterior events of competing, winning this award, getting this sponsorship and doing these things, all these stuff. Obviously, it's been an incredible journey and I'm very pleased, not regretful of what I've accomplished in my lifetime and career," he said.
"To realize that those things of spending quality time with friends and family. During this pandemic, that's what you have — the people around you. They just mean so much more to me now with age and time, and the recent events in the world. They just mean so much to me," White continued. "Having their support, knowing that they're there for me through thick and thin. Win, lose or draw, they're there for me through everything. I'm excited and proud to have them a part of this journey five times. That's crazy."
White has won three gold medals (2018 PyeongChang Games, 2010 Vancouver Games and 2006 Turin Games) and placed fourth at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Along with being the record holder for most Olympic gold medals by a snowboarder, his many accolades also include holding the world record for the most X-Games gold medals.
While he's best known for snowboarding, White had aspirations of competing at the Tokyo Olympics for the debut of park skateboarding this past summer.
However, in March 2020, he announced that his decision to stick with snowboarding so as not to compromise his chances of defending his title at the Winter Olympics and winning his fourth gold.
"Obviously I had my sights set on the Summer Olympics. I've always been an avid skateboarder, turned professional at 16. I was super excited for the opportunity to maybe compete in the Summer Olympics," White said on Tuesday. "But with the pandemic that struck through and the really tough decision of am I really ready to walk away from snowboarding yet. I just wasn't. I switched gears and switched focus back to the winter sports."
At 35, White will not only be one of the oldest competitors but also one of the toughest athletes to beat.
Laughing as he told reporters that he's "feeling a little seasoned at this age but hanging in there," White later added, "I will admit it is getting harder. You know, just the day in and day out. The grind of doing these tricks. I took a really bad crash a couple days ago. I remember I would just bounce back up and feel great. But [now] I'm like, might need a couple days more rest before I get back out there. Everything with patience and time."
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning this February, and the Winter Paralympics, beginning this March, on NBC.