Paige Jones focused on getting body ready for 2022
Jones is coming off a season where she was named U.S. Ski Jumping Athlete of the Year
The phrase “biomedical engineering” is usually enough to make any sane person recoil in horror, dredging up old memories of stressful math classes and long, technical science terms. Then again, most sane people don’t accelerate down a steep 70- or 80-meter ramp on skis before flying through the air and landing perfectly for a living.
Park City native Paige Jones, 18, is simultaneously a young, promising ski jumper while also managing to find time to study biomedical engineering at the University of Utah. This summer, while so many people her age are relaxing and taking advantage of summer break, Jones has been hitting the books.
The bad news for her is that she’s already seeing how her courses apply to the real world. A crash at junior nationals in March resulted in a broken fibula, torn deltoid ligament and a disrupted ankle joint. Jones needed a plate installed during surgery, and the entire process is reminiscent of her studies.
“It’s kind of funny, when I was studying for finals, I was like two weeks out of surgery, and I now have every type of biomaterial in my body,” Jones said. “There’s polymers, metals and porcelain. So I have porcelain in my teeth, I got metal in my leg and they used polymers to fix my ligaments.”
Jones is still working her way back to the hill, meaning she won’t be competing at this week’s national championships. She ran, jumped and skipped last week for the first time since the injury, and she’s hoping to be ready to go come September. But the extra time off has at least given her more time to work on her studies.
“I blame ‘Star Wars’ and Luke’s prosthetic arm from there kind of getting me into it,” Jones said. “But I did engineering classes all throughout high school and really loved and just kind of knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Away from the classroom, Jones is coming off her first year on the World Cup circuit. Her 31st-place finish in Ljubno, Slovenia, was the best result of any American ski jumper in the last two years. Jones finished 39th in the women’s individual large hill event and 36th in the normal hill event at this year’s world championships and was the highest-ranking American in both. For her efforts, Jones was U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s Ski Jumping Athlete of the Year.
“I got the email that they were giving me the award pretty soon after surgery, so it didn’t really register until they started coming out with them,” she said. “But it was pretty crazy. I didn’t realize that I had the best World Cup result for the U.S. over the last two years until they noticed, which was interesting because that’s not something I really caught onto.”
Similar to her idol and friend Sarah Hendrickson, the fellow Park City native who became the first woman to jump at the Olympics, Jones says that she was the first woman to jump off the large hill at a world championship event this year. The bib order for qualifying was random, and because Jones was given the No. 2 bib, she was first in line when the No. 1 bib didn’t qualify.
“Wasn’t exactly planned out, but it was pretty great,” Jones said.
While Jones is busy making sure her body is ready to go for the 2021-22 season, she doesn’t have eyes on Beijing yet. The United States currently doesn’t have any spots at the Games, as Jones’ best finish was one spot short of registering points on the World Cup standings. Jones said that it would probably take a few top 30s to secure a spot.
Even worse, with her injury, the only thing Jones can do is root for her teammates from home.
“I feel like I can’t go out and compete for the spot, so it will probably be frustrating if we can’t get a spot, and I feel like maybe I could have earned that spot this summer but was unable to,” she said. “But I have four years to jump in the Olympics if I want to.”
But this week she’s just looking forward to normalcy back home. She’s looking forward to familiar faces and the comforts of being home at a competition. She’s looking forward to mentoring kids that were just like her years ago.
“It’s fun to have a big competition in the U.S. at home because we’re always traveling for competitions,” Jones said. “There’s lots of stuff going on, a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while are here, and it’s nice.
“I remember being that kid at Springer and being so excited for Mentor Day and having all of the older girls like Sarah and Lindsey (Van) coach us, and it’s exciting to be on the other end of it.”
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The Wildcats have now lost four of their last six matches.