Bari Nan Rothchild
Park City, UT
By now, I’ve established that having a kid in ski jumping was the exact parenting lesson I never knew I needed. When my now-15-year-old son started in the sport at age eight, we were mystified by almost everything about it. I was a spotty sports participant (to say the least) as a child, so I learned on the fly (see what I did, there?). Quickly, it became evident that though he may acquire athletic skills, the greatest takeaways from my child’s involvement as an athlete would come from the life of a team: a respectable work ethic, empathy and kindness, teamwork and support, resilience and determination. The ability to make mistakes—on the field of play or interpersonal—and have the support of teammates, coaches and a community of parents, to help him overcome and learn from them. It is a sport that cultivates both vulnerability and iron will, and a community that knows how to nurture it. And in the world of USA Nordic, whatever you learn, you learn from the best.
I saw this at Springer Tournee, where National Team athletes from the US and Canada coach the youngest jumpers for a day. The older athletes went above and beyond the “assignment,” answering questions and offering kind, thoughtful, practical advice. Because we live in Park City, Seth and his teammates might be coached by some of the “mentors” at various points in the year, or just bump into them at UOP and have a chat. (If I start to name-check everyone, I fear I will leave someone out. But you know who you are. And you know how much we admire and respect your leadership, and your belief in the value of the sports community.)
A few months after Seth’s first Springer, my phone pinged with a text from one of his National Team athlete-coaches from Mentor Day, Will Rhoads: “I have a little present I want to drop off for Seth, before I leave for Europe,” he wrote. “I love his positivity and energy and I want to keep him excited about the sport any way I can!” And wouldn’t you know, he showed up on Halloween to bring the best treat ever—a bib from his previous World Cup season. It was a clever bit of trick-or-treat magic, and a tradition that Will continued the following year (photo above), while he was pursuing the berth he would eventually land to compete in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. (Once, when he handed Seth a bib, Will said, “It’s my PR bib from last season,” and Seth tried to decline the gift. “You can’t give that away! It’s important.” Will imparted wisdom that has stuck: “It just means I have to push myself to hit a new PR.”)
In some cases, mentors became coaches, who became Olympians who couldn’t wait to come back to the hill after the Games to cheer and hug their athletes.
But seeing his heroes weather disappointment with grace gave him another gift. It was meaningful to see athletes land jumps they didn’t like, and go up to take another, and another. But when he broke his leg in January 2021, he’d seen enough of his heroes’ experiences that he knew the way forward. (And thanks to them—and our friendships with their parents, so did we.) The injury was rough—emotionally and physically. (Ironically, one of our very first friends in Park City—20 years earlier, before my husband and I had kids, before we knew one of them would ski jump—was Alan Johnson. He’s known Seth since he was born—and when AJ told me he’s never seen a “boot-top” fracture from a ski jumping accident, I reminded him that this is not a kid who does things the normal way. Not even ski jumping.) Still, it was in that injury where Seth found his opportunity to begin to pay forward all the support he’d been given since age eight.
Like so many others before him, he began assisting coaches on the small hills, and observing his comp team teammates on the large hills, while standing next to Adam Loomis, Robert Lock, and Michael Ward on the coaches’ stand—soaking up everything they said about each jump, listening to every piece of advice. Even before he was cleared to jump, he insisted on traveling to Steamboat for the festive, always fun, July 4th week Jumpin’ and Jammin’ camp and comp week, to support his teammates. Returning to sport, he spent a lot of time reacclimating on the small hills in Park City, making peace with the 40m where he’d crashed, and finding his groove again to move back up to the large hills. He’d get in the car after a small hills session, and tell me which jumpers he owed candy bars, because he had, um, incentivized “one more jump.” He’d talk about how much fun he had witnessing a ten year-old have a skill breakthrough. Suddenly, he could identify and articulate that contributing to the sport community was as important as any accomplishment he might achieve on the hill.
Last summer, Seth was back in Steamboat for July 4th, feeling strong, ready to compete. He’d made the trip with the team, and his occasional texts were, thankfully, supplemented with “proof of life” photos and text updates from other parents who had traveled with their athletes. Amidst images of early morning adventures on the team camping trip, bike rides, hikes, and training videos—even a PR—came a photo from my friend Katie. It was a mom-to-mom love note, allowing me a peek into a moment that mattered to both of us just a little more than any other moment that weekend. In actual fact, it was probably unremarkable to our kids: her six-year-old practicing on the rollerjump, and my teen, she later reported, coaching and encouraging, over and over again. To us, it was a poignant example of the power of play, the relationships that foster the growth of skills that we know will serve them far beyond the jumps. To them, it was just another moment in the life of a team.