Women help girls fly higher
This weekend, the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) will host a camp, but this one won’t include any s’mores or songs around the campfire. The campers will be too busy flying for any of that.
The National Sports Foundation (NSF) has invited young female ski jumpers from around the country to take advantage of the best ski jumping opportunities in America.
What makes the camp so unique is that it is run by American female ski jumpers. Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, Alissa Johnson, Brenna Ellis and Abby Hughes all ranked among the top 15 women in the world are working exclusively with younger girls in the sport. Besides the Park City and Salt Lake-based NSF girls, the camp is also welcoming jumpers from Colorado, and the Central (Midwest) and Eastern Divisions.
For many of the girls, it is their first time in Park City, but just weeks after the U.S. Ski Team nominated an official women’s ski jumping team to be based out of the UOP, it is a facility that many of them are likely to become quite familiar with in the coming years.
"It’s an inspiration for the girls to be here. It’s the Mecca for ski jumping now," Tim said.
The other unique feature of the camp is the cost. The intensive four-day camp is only $25 per girl, with the rest of the costs being covered by the ski jumping non-profit, Women’s Ski Jumping, USA, which is committed to furthering female participation in the sport. The camp is open to any girl, ages 6-17, with previous ski jumping experience, interested in improving in the sport.
The bulk of the money to support the camp came from a grant from the locally-based Underdog Foundation, a non-profit focused on advancing youth programs in Summit County. According to WSJ USA board member Peter Jerome, in order to grow the team it is very important to the organization to keep the sport affordable and accessible for girls around the country.
"The focus of the foundation is shifting towards the development of athletes," Jerome said.
NSF executive director, Greg Poirier, is run the camp to ensure that the U.S. keeps producing top females who may one day follow Van’s lead, currently ranked No.2 in the world, as one of the best ski jumpers in the world.
"They are not very big shoes, but they fly very far," he said.
According to Van, the girls will jump twice and day with a specialized clinic in between on related issues like ski maintenance and nutrition. They will also mix in a few non-jumping activities like swimming and ceramics. This is the second time Van and the other women have run the summer camp, and she says it’s a necessary break from training to make sure that their sport continues to advance and grow.
"It promotes the sport to the other girls in the country and it’s good to see the other girls jump," Van explained.
A lot of the young girls are happy to have the opportunity to see other females in the country who love the sport as much as they do.
"I’m glad I’m ski jumping, because I get to meet girls from all over the country," said Elyse Hoffman, a 10-year-old from Madison, Wisc., who has been flying off jumping hills since her preschool years.
Working with the top women, arguably pioneers in the sport as they continue their quest for inclusion in the Olympics, also serves as an inspiration to the younger female jumpers.
"I like Jessica and Alyssa, because they can jump really far and they teach me different jumps I need to learn to do," said nine-year-old Michaela Arneson of St. Paul, Minn.
Nina Lussi of Lake Placid, N.Y. says that often she is the only girl jumping on the hill and talking with an athlete like Lindsey Van, who spent most of her career jumping with boys, means a lot.
"I like the hills here and its fun to be with a lot of girls, because when I usually train we have one or two," Lussi said.
The UOP also has facilities that many clubs around the country don’t have. Lussi is used seeing to the big jumping hills in Lake Placid, but they are mounted on a daunting tower, rather than a mountain. The K120 there is only open in the winter.
Karin Friberg, 16, of Roseville, Minn., only has a 46-meter jump near her hometown for training. Although Nordic skiing is a strong part of the sports history in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, the facilities are not as modern as those in former Olympic venues. As an older junior on the jumping scene, the camp in Park City allows Friberg to spend time on K-90 and K-120, practicing jumps more comparable to those used in world junior competition. Fellow Midwestern jumper Elisabeth Anderson, 16, who jumps with the Flying Eagles Ski Club in Eau Claire, Wisc. has already been to the Junior World Championships and welcomes the opportunity to work side-by-side the best women in the country. Right now, Anderson is trying to perfect her jumps on the bigger hills. She, along with the other older juniors, will be working with the top U.S. women’s coach, Casey Colby, since they compete with the top American women in world events. Anderson and Friberg will stay in Park City all month long jumping and utilizing the elite level coaching.
"We are hoping we can work up to that level in our future," Anderson said.
Anderson’s father, Tim, escorted many of the Midwestern girls to Park City and hopes that a summer’s worth of coaching gives them that extra boost to help their jumping.
"For our kids to be coached by the top jumpers in the world is a real thrill for them," Tim said. "They really look up to the girls."
There is extra incentive this year for all of the young female ski jumpers to get better. With the recent announcement by the International Ski Federation (FIS) allowing women’s ski jumping into the 2009 World Championships, the possibility of Olympic inclusion of the sport seems eminent. With the ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal within reach, the girls are finding that they can finally dream bigger dreams.
"They like to jump just to jump, but to have that in their minds is real incentive," Tim said. "We would have never have dreamed that a few years ago."
Judy Hilgers, mother of 11-year-old jumper Brenna of Madison, Wisc. agrees.
"That’s why it’s so fun to be out here, because you are part of history being made," Hilgers said.
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