Sam Macuga flies toward a landing during a competition. Photo courtesy of Ben Pieper
Sam Macuga flies toward a landing during a competition. Photo courtesy of Ben Pieper

Watching female ski jumpers take flight for the first time in Olympic history during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games was inspirational to a young generation of jumpers.

With the chance to compete in the Olympics, participation in the sport by young women is increasing. Women's Ski Jumping USA, based in Park City, has started a program called "Fly Girls" to help young female ski jumpers develop their skills alongside Olympians like Sarah Hendrickson, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome.

Two Park City athletes, Samantha Macuga and Sophia Nester, were selected to join the program alongside six other girls from across the country.

Nester, 14, and Macuga, 13, are excited for the opportunity to improve their skills beside the women they watched compete in Sochi.

"I get to hang out with the Olympians," Macuga said. "I've seen them for a while, but now I get to train with them. I think that's going to be really, really cool."

"Training with them is pretty cool," Nester agreed. "I usually don't train alongside them, since we train on the smaller hills, but it's cool being around them all the time and being able to talk to them about certain things."

Macuga said she was thrilled to be selected for the program, a five-week training camp to be held in Park City.

"When I found out, I didn't really know what the program was at first," she said. "I was like, 'Oh, OK, it's some five-week program in the middle of summer.' But then I found out the Olympians were going to be there and [U.S. head coach] Alan [Alborn] was going to be there. There are going to be seven other girls there and I think it'll be fun to meet them and ski jump."

Though they took different paths to get into the sport, both Macuga and Nester are hoping for the same thing now - they want to be named to the development team.

"[Being selected for the program] makes me want to work harder," Nester said. "It's pushing me more and giving me a higher goal. At the end of camp, they could be naming the top two girls to the women's ski jumping development team.

Sophia Nester competes in a ski jumping event at the Utah Olympic Park. Photo courtesy of Julie Nester
Sophia Nester competes in a ski jumping event at the Utah Olympic Park. Photo courtesy of Julie Nester
That would take me to higher competitions."

Macuga entered the sport through an after-school program, she said, after deciding against another winter sport.

"I was with the Get Out and Play program at Jeremy Ranch," she said. "I had done ski jumps on some of the mini jumps out on the hill. I went to do a program with ski jumping - I was originally going to do a program with aerials, but then I found out that was flips and stuff. I don't like flipping, so I did ski jumping. I did one session and I've kind of stayed with it since."

Nester, on the other hand, started out in a different sport before making the switch.

"I started cross-country skiing when we first moved here when I was six," she said. "They took us for a try-ski-jumping kind of day or something and I loved it. It was the most fun thing I've ever done. I did a bunch of camps that winter and signed up for the program that summer."

After overcoming her initial fear, Macuga was hooked as well.

"The first time, you're sitting on the bar and your brain's telling you, 'Don't do this, don't do this, you're going to fall,'" she said. "You've just got to let it go and commit. Flying is really cool."

Now the girls hope to fly all the way to the Olympics, whether it's in 2018 or 2022. But, first, they'll set their sights on this winter's Junior Olympics. Macuga said she's still got a lot of work left to do, though.

"I'm hoping to fix my in-run position and hopefully get stronger mentally and physically," she said. "I think the Olympians will have tips and advice and I'll get better at ski jumping, especially on the big hill."

"I'm working on keeping my arms in and training a lot in and out of the gym," Nester added.