It was a fast paced winter in Europe. 9 weeks, 11 countries, 17,000 miles, and 16 hotel rooms. The memories from this season, I will keep forever. There were days spent trying not to hold my head too high in triumph as well as days spent trying not to hold my head too low in defeat. I want to write about two of the most positive days I had on the World Cup this season. First however, there is some backstory involved.
With 11 World Cup starts this season, I gained significant exposure to the highest level of skiing. The first couple starts were pretty shaky. I was forcing things and had too many nerves. In most sports trying hard is a positive but trying too hard in ski jumping usually ends up with my name at the bottom of the results sheet. I’m at my best when my mind is empty. This means sitting at the top of the ski jump with a real laid back “I don’t care what happens” type of attitude. This goes against everything I believe in because yeah, I do care what happens. Late in the season I found a perfect mindset that allowed me to tap into some of my best performances ever on the ski jumping hill.
As a kid, ski jumping was fun for me because it was an adrenaline rush. Strapping on giant skis and sending myself down a huge ramp with a jump at the end seemed like the scariest after school activity possible. So I had my mom sign me up. Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint on the scare factor. I used to get these insane butterflies in my stomach that would leave me amped up for hours afterwards. At some point along the way though, those butterflies disappeared. As I started to really improve, the sport totally changed for me. It went from being this gnarly dare devil stunt to a beautiful art form. To this day, nothing is more peaceful to me than soaring through the air. I feel comfortable up there, like I belong there.
The jump in Lahti, Finland breaks the mold of everything I just wrote. It truly brings the fear back into ski jumping for me. The inrun rises up into the dark Finnish sky for what looks like a mile. The elevator ride to the top seems to take hours. When the door finally opens at the top, the cold wind rips in like an assassin. The wood in the start area has a thin layer of ice permanently frozen to the top of it. This makes maneuvering the stairs in ski jumping boots extremely difficult.
I have bad memories of the jump in Lahti. Last season I couldn’t even manage to jump into the top 50. On top of that, going into the Lahti World Cup I hadn’t ski jumped in eight days. This was not on purpose. Logistically I just didn’t have access to ski jumping for eight days. That is a long time to go without training, especially in the middle of the season. So on this day I truly just let go. I realized this hill was probably going to give me the beating of a lifetime, just like last year. I stared down the monstrous inrun and just gave up all expectations. I truly in all senses of the phrase just shut down mentally. I let go of the bar, sped down the inrun, flew off the end of the jump, and went pretty damn far. Whoa whatever I just did worked! I ended up jumping to 20th place in Lahti. I finished the race in 34th place, just 12 seconds out of the top 30. It was heart breaking to be so close to scoring my first World Cup points but also really exhilarating to even be that close.
Another day that I want to write about took place in Val Di Fiemme, Italy. It was a miserable day by all accounts. When I woke up at 7:00 it was raining. Judging by the amount of water on the streets, it had been raining for quite some time. Due to the weather, our training jump before the competition was cancelled. This means the first jump of the day is the one that counts. Often times some people need a warm up jump to get the feel of the hill. For me, my first jump is often times my best because my head is empty. This seemed to do the trick because I had an amazing jump. Because I didn’t have world cup points, I was one of the first jumpers to go. This means that I had time to change out of my stuff and watch the rest of the comp from the athlete lounge. I got to the athlete lounge and realized just how good my jump really was. The conditions were tough and everyone was struggling. I watched athlete after athlete jump shorter than me. Then all 50 athletes had jumped, and I was in 10th place.
It was pretty extraordinary seeing my name at the top of the results sheet with some of the biggest names in the Nordic Combined world. The three hours before the race seemed infinite. I have never been so nervous in my entire life. I knew that the conditions on the cross-country course were bad the day before, but they would be even worse on this day with the rain. Historically I have struggled in sloppy conditions.
To make a long story short, I suffered. I slowly slipped back to 34th place. I couldn’t manage the difficult conditions as well as the other athletes. 34th place in the World Cup is not a bad finish. It is a bad finish though when you start the race in 10th place.
Looking back on my season, I’m psyched about the level of my ski jumping. It’s pretty amazing to see how far I have come. As a 15 year old, I was probably the 10th best Nordic Combined jumper in the country. Now I can be the 10th best Nordic Combined jumper in the world on a good day. However, I feel very frustrated about the number of great opportunities I couldn’t take advantage of on the cross-country course. Next year my goal is to take advantage of these opportunities. I’m looking forward to improving my weaknesses and making my strengths even stronger. I’m determined to come back as a more complete athlete next year.
This sport seems to get more difficult every year. The jumping and cross country levels of Nordic Combined keep breaking barriers that were laid down years ago. I’m learning how tough it actually is to be a professional athlete. It is going to require an unimaginable amount of work to accomplish my goals. I am determined to put in that work and realize my full potential. I know how good I can be, but soon enough, everyone else will know too.
Thank you to everyone who helps make my ski career possible. I want to thank my family, sponsors, supporters, teammates, and coaches. I couldn’t accomplish anything without you!