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Taking a Bite out of Life

Taking a Bite out of LifeFrom snowboarding to dental exams, Dimitri Tripodakis shares how he brings the same mentality to both fields. 

Boston [02.17.09] "Taking uncertainty and fear and transforming it into a pleasant experience is something that I think a dentist has to face every day," explains Dimitri Tripodakis, a first-year student at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. "The dentist has to gain the confidence and trust of that patient and eventually heal him."

Though Tripodakis applies this belief to dentistry, it arose from a very different pursuit: snowboarding. Whether he is competing or teaching, this former member of the Greek national team sees parallels between his two passions.

Tripodakis' father, a 1981 Tufts University School of Dental Medicine alum, introduced his son to skiing as a child in his native Greece. However, watching an alpine snowboarding race in 1995 inspired him to try something new.

"It seemed easier than skiing, and I thought, 'I could do that,'" he says.

Largely self-taught, Tripodakis competed in his first race three months later. By the age of 19, he was one of the top five alpine snowboarders in the country, claiming a spot on the Greek national team.

Soon after, Tripodakis moved to Italy, where, inspired by his father, he trained and began to study dentistry. Though it was clear which occupation he preferred at the time.

"I was more devoted to snowboarding, so dentistry didn't go that well," he laughs.

Although his dental career was put on hold, Tripodakis' devotion to snowboarding paid off. His career has featured a World Championship win in Italy, various top-three finishes, participation in two world championships and a World Cup. Snowboarding professionally, he says, is a challenging endeavor.

"The competition there is very cutthroat, very good riders," says Tripodakis. "I guess that's one thing I've learned from competing-besides commitment, discipline and hard work, I've learned how to lose."

In 2004, soon after participating in his second World Championship, Tripodakis married and moved to the United States to pick up his dentistry studies again. Tufts was high on his radar.

"I know how good a dental school Tufts is because my father went there and because we've been receiving the alumni magazine at our house in Greece since I was a toddler," Tripodakis says. "All that plays a role and builds an image in your mind."

The admissions process, however, was not as seamless as Tripodakis initially expected.

"I didn't know where to go, so I just showed up," Tripodakis laughs. "I went to the prosthodontics department, found a professor who knew my father and said 'Hey, I want to join Tufts, too!'"

The professor advised Tripodakis to pursue a bachelor's degree, which he completed in three years at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. In the meantime, he found work as a snowboarding instructor. For an international competitor, this was easier said than done.

"I went to different ski places around here, but they were looking at me as if I was an alien," says Tripodakis."I'm telling them 'Yeah, I'm Greek, and I can snowboard, and if you want, I can teach too,' and they just didn't buy it."

Tripodakis was about to give up when his wife recommended Ski Ward in Shrewsbury, Mass. He was hired, and while the slope at Ski Ward pales in comparison to the Alps, Tripodakis still found satisfaction in teaching.

"I didn't miss the big mountains because I discovered a new world there of teaching, which was a great experience for me," he explains. "You can train hard and race and be aggressive, then you race and you come in first, and then what? Yeah, it feels good, but it has very little substance."

He adds, "For the first time I felt that all that effort and all that knowledge was going somewhere, not just building a champion image or something like that."

The fulfillment Tripodakis felt helping others as a snowboard instructor, he says, strengthened his resolve to go to dental school.

"I thought, 'In dentistry, I'm going to feel that every day.'"

After receiving his bachelor's degree, Tripodakis applied to and was accepted by Tufts. Though each passing year makes a return to alpine racing "more of a fantasy," his experience on the slopes has helped guide him during his time at Tufts.

"You fall, you get up, and you finish the race. I've learned from snowboarding that you can compete against the best and you might fail compared to them, but you can make your own progress," he explains. "At the end it's what you have, and how you manage to get down to the finish line."

By Molly Frizzell (A'09)

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