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Travis Mayer was a few weeks away from competing in the 2002 Winter Olympics when our paths first crossed. He was a world-class freestyle skier who competed at the top resorts across the United States and Europe, a kid who didn’t know how far life’s travels would lead him in the real world.

It all makes sense now.

Mayer began skiing when he was 5 years old at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, where he first learned to navigate the moguls. He left his home in Orchard Park for Steamboat Springs, Colo., to pursue his dream of becoming the best. At 19, he earned a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

“The opportunity to do what you love every single day, if you’re lucky enough to be at that elite level, it’s such an exhilarating thing,” Mayer said by telephone Tuesday night. “If you combine that passion with a blue-collar work ethic, it tends to be the guys that do well. Growing up in Buffalo, which an honest and unpretentious place, you appreciate the opportunity. And you work.”

Mayer wasn’t considered a favorite to win a medal in Salt Lake City until he nailed his first run and validated that with another. He took home silver, narrowly missing gold, while his family and friends cheered at the bottom of the mountain. His father slipped away from the celebration so nobody could see him crying.

Mayer competed in the 2006 Winter Games in Italy, finishing seventh and knowing his career was nearing an end. At the time, Mayer feared freestyle skiing was pushing the limits of safety, and he was determined to leave the sport in one piece. He kept his silver medal in his sock drawer before giving it to his parents for safe keeping.

“I was worried about it getting stolen,” he said with a laugh. “More responsible parties intervened.”

Mayer earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School before settling into the next stage of his life. A fifth-generation member of Mayer Bros., the cider and bottled water company based in West Seneca, he opted out of the family business and set his own career path.

Intelligent and balanced, even at a young age, he was destined to navigate bumps in life, the same way he did in his sport, and land on his feet. Sure enough, he combined his smarts and his skis and ended up back in the snowy mountains.

Mayer was hired by Intrawest, the Denver-based giant in high-end North American ski resorts, in 2007. It owns eight ski resorts and another getaway in Hawaii. He started in the finance department, climbed the corporate ladder and last summer was named senior vice president for finance and business development.

“I really like what I’m doing now, but it’s still very much a job,” her said. “It’s intellectually rewarding and interesting, but it’s nothing like doing something you love that much. In sports, you do it because you love the craft. I definitely miss that feeling. There’s nothing like chasing your dream, being that committed and enjoying it that much. And, yeah, I knew it at the time.”

In recent weeks, he was marketing stock in a surge that included 77 presentations in 10 cities over eight days in preparation for the company announcing its initial public offering of 15.6 million shares of stock at $12 per share.

It’s a major step for the company and for him another step in the company. Mayer married the former Lee Motayed, whom he met at Harvard, about a year ago. He 31 years old, a top executive for a company that owns many of the same slopes he owed as a competitor. Life is good.

“It’s a pretty good fit,” Mayer said. “I’m loving it.”

Kane’s biggest fan

Patrick Kane fought through a difficult game Monday against the Kings and fought back tears afterward while explaining his relationship with his late grandfather. Donald Kane lived next door. He was known as a terrific guy and respected gentleman to many others for many years in South Buffalo.

Kane heard about his grandfather’s death shortly before faceoff in Los Angeles. He finished with a goal and two assists in leading the Blackhawks to a 5-3 win, his first three-point night since Dec. 28. Kane pointed toward the heavens after scoring 62 seconds into the game, honoring his grandfather.

“He was one of my great friends growing up,” Kane said told reporters in Los Angeles. “It’s just a really sad, sad day. It was important to get the win, but any time you get someone taken away from you who’s so close to you, who means so much, it’s tough to get ready for the game.”

Don Kane was his grandson’s biggest fan but spoke more often about the person than the player. He took the same approach to his children and other grandchildren. He helped drop a ceremonial faceoff when Kane returned to Buffalo for the first time after the Blackhawks selected him first overall in the 2007 NHL draft.

“We would do things like play cards and hang out by the pool throughout the summers,” Kane said. “He came to all of my hockey games. It was a tough day, for sure.”

One for the books

How screwy was Super Bowl 48 – please, let’s stop the Roman numeral insanity – between the Seahawks and Broncos?

You probably know the Seahawks broke the record for fastest score when they took a 2-0 lead with a safety 12 seconds into the game. Seattle also was the first team with a touchdown rushing, a touchdown passing, an interception return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown and a safety in the same game.

And it marked the first time in NFL history, after nearly 15,000 games in the regular season and playoffs, that a game ended, 43-8. Only 47 teams have scored exactly 43 points in one game while only 40 teams have scored exactly eight points. It had never happened in the same game until Sunday.

By the way, eight safeties have been recorded in Super Bowl history including one in each of the past three years. Twenty-one years passed between Bruce Smith’s safety against the Giants – if it’s a touchdown, there is no Wide Right – and Tom Brady getting called for grounding in the end zone in Super Bowl 46.

Heisman hype helps

Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who led Florida State to a national football title, was named third team preseason All-America by Baseball America. If there’s an injustice, it’s that he appeared to push Virginia pitcher-infielder Nick Howard off the team.

Winston was selected as a utility player after playing outfield and pitching for the Seminoles last season as a freshman. He batted only .235 and had two homers and 32 RBIs in 32 games. He had a 1-2 record with a 3.00 ERA.

Howard, all-ACC last year, was a first-team preseason pick by Perfect Game but was left off Baseball America’s team after batting .323 with three homers and 38 RBIs last season. He had a 6-4 pitching record with a 3.38 ERA for the Cavaliers, the top-ranked team in the country going into this season.

He has Buffalo bloodlines. Howard is the son of Dale Howard and the nephew of Dennis Howard, twin brothers from West Seneca who made up one of the best batteries in local baseball in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dale Howard was a right-handed pitcher who starred at UB and was drafted by the Blue Jays. Nick Howard grew up in Maryland.

Quotable

Syracuse hoops coach Jim Boeheim, to The Post-Standard, on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: “He’s got unbelievable organization and motivational skills, better than anybody I’ve seen. And I think it’s been really helpful for me to be around that. Not that I’m very organized, or very motivational, but I think it’s really helped me.”

Stats Inc.

119.4 – Dollars, in millions, bet on the Super Bowl through Nevada casinos, a record amount and about $20 million more than was wagered last year.

19.7 – Estimated dollars, in millions, Nevada casinos made in profits after bettors put their money behind the Broncos as 2½-point favorites over the Seahawks.

60-to-1 – Odds that the first score would be a safety. There were 8-to-1 odds that there would be a safety scored in the game.

Quick Hits

• Four football recruiting websites – ESPN.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247sports.com – predicted another big day for the Southeastern Conference. All four had nine SEC teams ranked in the top 20 recruiting classes in the country. ESPN had Alabama nabbing five of the top 15 players.

• John Tortorella, after serving a 15-day suspension for inciting a melee outside the Flames’ dressing room, pleaded guilty when he returned. He initially tried blaming Flames coach Bob Hartley. “I apologize first and foremost to the players for the situation I put them in, to the organization for my stupidity, to the league,” Tortorella said.

• Bode Miller makes more headlines in alpine skiing, but look for Ted Ligety to steal the show in Sochi. He won the giant slalom, Super-G and super-combined at the World Ski Championships last year and is back in top form. He won the giant slalom Sunday in Switzerland, the last World Cup event before the Olympics.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com