After 57 hours and four countries, Nina Lussi, a 25 year-old U.S. ski jumper, finally made it home
It was a whirlwind of an adventure for Parkite Nina Lussi.
After nearly getting stuck in Slovenia on Sunday, March 15, and Turkey the following day, and being stopped by customs agents in Canada and the United States, the 25 year-old U.S. ski jumper finally arrived in Lake Placid, New York, on Tuesday, March 17.
“I’m very happy to be home after getting in a few nights ago. … I mean, being there and going through that journey was a little too close to comfort for me,” Lussi said. “I realized that I had to get home because Slovenia was closing down its airports so I didn’t have much time at all. And it just sent me on this journey to Turkey, Montreal and finally home, something I will never forget. It was insane but nothing beats being in my own bed.”
Lussi’s story is one of many that depict the difficulty American winter-sport athletes faced when trying to return to the States amid the global disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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With the cancellation of many events, U.S. Ski and Snowboard and USA Nordic’s call-to-action of returning all of their respective athletes back home came on Thursday, March 12, setting in motion tons of athletes struggling to get back to their loved ones.
While there are many who had “adventurous” trips home like Lussi hers might’ve been the most extreme considering she also lives in Park City part-time as well.
Lussi’s journey began in her apartment in Slovenia on that Sunday
After watching her friends’ returns through social media, Lussi quickly came to the conclusion that she needed to make arrangements to get home. So she went home, packed up her luggage, said goodbye to her roommates and went to the airport — where she was met with a throng of people who had the same idea.
“I tried changing my original flight because I heard the airport was closing down the next day, but all the websites and apps kept crashing, so I packed up and went to the airport,” Lussi said. “It was a mass panic and everyone was frantic, and after waiting in line for over an hour, I was told to go to a different line. The flight I wanted to get on was overbooked, so I asked for any flight to get me back to the States and the guy said, ‘I can’t help you.’”
With things looking dim, the same guy who told Lussi he couldn’t help told her to come back in a few hours — and when she returned, things started to look better.
“When I came back, I found the guy at the front desk and he was working it,” Lussi said. “He was on three different phones and had two computer screens going at the same time, just trying to find me a flight. We were yelling at each other through the glass wall so we could communicate, but he really helped me stay calm that it would work out.”
Lussi finally got a flight worked out, going from Slovenia to Turkey to Montreal, Quebec, where her mom would pick her up and drive to Lake Placid. The only potential issue was that the flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 7 p.m., leaving very little room for error if Lussi was to leave Slovenia before the airports shut down five hours later.
Lussi returned to her apartment, where she hung out with her roommates until the flight the following day, drinking beer and playing ping-pong to pass the time.
The next day began one of the longest trips of her life.
After boarding the flight in Slovenia and landing in Turkey, Lussi was hit with a 17-hour layover — so she took up the airlines’ offer and stayed at a hotel for the night, but that was interesting in itself.
“Istanbul wasn’t quite as frantic so that was nice, but then when I went through the exit hall, people were going crazy yelling for taxis and it was insane,” Lussi said. “Then we drove through the back streets, which were a little scary at night, and the hotel wasn’t that nice.
“I got nervous the next day because they were shutting down borders and if I didn’t make my plane, I couldn’t go back to Slovenia, so I would’ve been stuck.”
But she made it safely on the plane, and then landed in Montreal the following night where a whole other set of problems set in. After going through customs, upon arrival in Canada, which was an experience within itself, she then had to go through yet another set of agents at the U.S. border to get into New York.
After being asked a myriad of questions, especially considering how much traveling she’d done through Europe for competitions she worried whether she would make it in.
“The Border Patrol guy talking to me used to be an EMT for the ski jumps at Lake Placid so we had this common bond. … And he let me through,” Lussi said. “As we were driving to the house, once we got on a familiar road I was finally able to breath because I felt like I made it. It was long but so worth it.”
In a span of 57 hours, Lussi’s whole world turned upside down when she went from preparing for a weeklong ski jumping trip in Slovenia with friends to traveling through four countries just to arrive back home in Lake Placid.
But now, back home and healthy, Lussi is enjoying the time with her family and looking forward to when she can get back to Park City and begin training for what comes next.
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.