Andover Ski Club (NH)
Winter of 2013, my then third-grader, Natalie Sisemore, came home from her weekly ski lesson at Mount Sunapee and stated “I want to ski jump. Can I ski jump? Our instructor said they really need more girls.” That instructor, come to find out, was Gary Summerton. In retrospect, I’m surprised she didn’t come home with a pair jumping skis. I was all for it, even though I had hoped she’d race like me, and we signed Natalie up for the program at Ford-Sayre to try it out. Heidi Nichols was great with her and she loved the new activity, Natalie had no fear of the steep landing hill, the speed, or the jump. The next winter we found the Andover Outing Club which was much closer to home for us, and coach Tim Norris. Natalie was on jumping skis and jumping the k18 before we knew it and having a blast. Tim’s ability to work with kids is amazing. We started doing Grasshopper camps in Lake Placid and her first summer jump was a disaster. She chose to ride the landing hill until halfway through the next day. Natalie gave up team gymnastics the next winter so she could jump the whole season.
We had a few more great winters and summers, Tim Norris “retired” and Chris Jones took over. Then summer of 2017 hit. Natalie was 13, came off the k18 in Lake Placid, burst into tears and said “I hate this. I don’t want to come back.” I asked if she wanted to leave right then, and she said she’d finish the weekend camp. That ride home was emotional and I told her I wouldn’t mention ski jumping until the email came out that fall for gear fitting. Fall came, and ski jumping was a hard pass, she was done, it was too lonely and she had no friends her own age. There was a collective groan, the sport had lost another girl. All Natalie wanted to do was “have fun and ski”. We spent a fantastic winter on the ski slopes every single weekend. I was watching ski jumping footage from the Empire State Games in February 2018 when she put her head on my shoulder and said “Mum, I really miss jumping. Can I go back?” This decision was hers, all hers, and it was made with her heart. “Of course you can go back!” To say Chris was happy about this news is an understatement.
Fast forward, Natalie jumped for Sunapee Middle High School in 8th and 9th grade as well as Andover Outing Club so she could still train with Chris. New Hampshire is the only state that has ski jumping as a competitive high school sport, but when you’ve been coached the same way by two people for years it’s hard to change. 10th grade finds her enrolled at Proctor Academy (finally!) and jumping 6 days a week with Chris Jones. She’s exhausted, but happy. 11th grade, she was looking forward to a good season when a fall took her out for half the season. She planned her semester abroad in Spain for this fall just so she wouldn’t miss her senior year ski jumping season. Natalie is hoping she can keep jumping “a little” with Andover Outing Club after she graduates this spring and maybe help out Coach Chris, “especially with the girls so they don’t quit.”
As a parent, I am thankful for the things ski jumping has given my daughter. She’s made friends, gained confidence, found another activity that makes her happy, and has pride in knowing she does something that not many people can or would ever do. Ski jumping, like the hundreds of miles of hiking she’s done, has taught her about assessing risks and challenges and overcoming them. It’s part of the foundation that will carry her through life. It’s given her time with her grandfather she will remember for the rest of her life. My father was at almost every meet to watch her and enjoyed traveling to Lake Placid with us. It’s too hard to bring him now with his dementia.
While Natalie will never be famous for ski jumping or fly off the k90, it doesn’t matter because she loves this sport so much. It brings her joy. She speaks with pride when she talks about jumping with people foreign to the sport. I’m hoping she can be a little bit of inspiration to other girls out there, showing they can do hard things and it’s a lot of fun!