Talented teenage ski racer sets sights on Olympics
Park City ski racer Jessie Delacenserie piled her belongings in the family car last Thursday, snugged up her iPod and settled into the passenger seat next to her dad/driver for the seven-hour drive to Edwards, Colo., near Vail, where she’ll live, train and race for the next five months as a member of Ski Club Vail.
Only hours before she left town, the 15-year-old racing phenom completed her 11th grade studies at the Winter Sports School, a private high school for aspiring winter athletes at Olympic Park. A straight "A" student, Delacenserie is on track to graduate from high school a year from now.
"I’m passionate about ski racing — it’s my life," declares Delacenserie. "Between racing, training, working out and going to school, I don’t have a lot of free time for normal stuff like going to the mall or hanging out with friends. No dating, no boyfriends."
It’s a grueling, counter-culture lifestyle for a teenager girl, but one she’s chosen to follow with all her heart. It’s the price she and her family are willing to pay to reach her goal of making the U.S. Ski Team and representing her country at the Winter Olympics.
The Wisconsin native is the middle child of Nancy and Rick Delacenserie. She has an older sister, Kelsey, and a younger brother, James. "I lived in the same house in Madison until I was 12 years old, when we moved to Park City," says Delacenserie.
The obvious question: Why Vail and not Park City, her home town? "It’s mostly the coaching and the level of competition there," explains Delacenserie. "I raced for the Park City Ski Team for two years. The coaches in Park City are great, but this was a tremendous opportunity for me. At Vail I’m able to train with a coach I’ve known since I was seven years old and another coach who has years of experience coaching on the World Cup circuit and at the Olympics. I’m training with and skiing against some of the best racers my age in the country and the competition is really making me better."
Competition and the pursuit of excellence have driven this ambitious teenager since she strapped on her first pair of skis at age four at Tyrol Basin in Wisconsin. "I started racing just for fun when I was five years old and stepped it up to the next level two years later when I joined the Madison Alpine Race Team. There were 15 kids on the team, ranging in age from seven to eighteen.
"My dad was the one who got me into all this ski-racing madness. Though he never raced and doesn’t really enjoy skiing that much, he took me to all my races, often taking time off from work. He was always there at the start to take down my warm-ups and there when I finished, writing down my times in his little notebook," she recalls with fondness.
At Tyrol, a typically tiny upper Midwestern resort, she and her teammates constantly struggled against the hill and the weather. "At night our hands would be frozen because we had to wear work gloves to get a grip on the usually frozen rope tow," she recalls. "But we’d also be sweating like pigs from skiing for 15-seconds down the slalom run and getting ourselves pulled back up the really steep tow about 20 times a night."
Delacenserie shivers when she recounts her early racing career. "Sometimes on the weekends we’d drive up to Michigan to compete," she says. "Racing on the shores of the Great Lakes in the Upper Peninsula was awful. It would always be about zero to 10 degrees and a lot colder with the wind chill. Sometimes there would be this mixture of hail and sleet and the wind would be blowing so hard I could stand with my skis pointing down the hill and not move."
In spite of the brutal conditions, Delacenserie excelled at her sport. "Pretty much the entire time I was racing in Wisconsin I was winning everything. I was way more into it than the other girls and started setting goals in competition with the older girls to keep me modest," she laughs.
Her parents recognized their daughter’s gift and began looking for places to live out West where she could ski and train longer under better conditions. Park City rose to the top, not only because it offered ideal ski and training conditions, but also because of the National Ability Center. "My older sister, Kelsey, has cerebral palsy and the Center has been a great resource for her and my parents, explains Delacenserie. "It provides such great opportunities for my sister and gives her so much confidence. I volunteer there a lot and it’s good to see my sister so happy."
Her parents, both attorneys, were also drawn to the town because of it’s proximity to a major city and airport. Delacenserie’s mother works in Salt Lake City as a tax attorney.
Delacenserie started 7th grade at Ecker Hill soon after the move to Park City, but dropped out half-way through to focus on her training. A precocious student as well as skier, she skipped half of 7th grade and all of 8th grade, enrolling at the Winter Sports School as a 9th grader the following spring.
The last three years have been all work and no play for this driven young woman. "Ski racing has become a huge part of who I am," she says. "To me it’s an all or nothing thing, so I’m putting everything I have into it. I’ve found something I’m pretty good at that can provide opportunities in the future."
Though Delacenserie says she’s never afraid on the race course, she sometimes gets nervous to the point of nausea before a big race. "I worry that I won’t do as well as I want to. I guess I’m really hard on myself. You just have to be so strong mentally. It’s something I’m working on," she concludes.
Delacenserie doesn’t expect to make the 2010 Olympic team. "That may be a little too soon," she admits. But she will definitely make a run at the 2014 team. In the meantime, she plans to graduate from high school next spring and take a year off to race and train.
She’s already set her sights on attending college back East, where she says she’ll study to become a doctor and orthopedic surgeon. "Maybe Dartmouth or Middlebury," she speculates. "I’m going to apply for scholarships at several schools. I’ll either be on the U.S. Ski Team or racing for a college ski team in the next few years."
Has the price been too high? "Definitely not," says Delacenserie. "When I’m away from home it’s tough, but I feel good because I’m more independent and doing more things on my own. Yes, I miss my family, but I’ve learned so much from this sport that I know will help me in whatever I end up doing in life."
She does confess to a touch of guilt about her Colorado choice. "My parents gave up so much to move out here and then I moved away."
Favorite things to do: Training and working out. "I know that’s kind of weird but I like the feeling that I’m pushing myself so hard something good is going to happen." Also cooking, baking and playing the piano.
Favorite foods: "Pretty much anything except seafood and really spicy food."
Favorite author: The "Twilight" series by Stephanie Meyer.
Favorite music: "I like all types of music, especially country."
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