EMILY BOYLE FISHER
Park City, UT
Ford Sayre Ski Club/Hanover High School Ski Jumping Team/Middlebury College Ski Team
Growing up I was often dragged along to numerous practices and activities for my older brothers. As a mother I now fully understand it, sometimes there are too many directions and not enough time. As a young kid, I spent countless hours watching hockey and playing hide and go seek in every nook and cranny of various hockey rinks with other not-on-the-ice siblings. Luckily for me my third brother, Dan, did not take to hockey and I thought the skates hurt my feet so I ended up tagging along to Oak Hill and watching him ski jump. Buff McLaughry asked me one night, “when are you going to start jumping?” I said, overly confidently, much to the surprise of my mother, “Next year!” My parents always told me that anything my brothers could do, so could I. The very next winter I started ski jumping and never looked back.
Ski jumping for the Ford Sayre Ski Club was inspiring. Many alumni and locals went on to ski in college, make National and even Olympic teams. It really seemed like achieving greatness was not just possible, but truly achievable. Oak Hill on a cold New Hampshire night is magical. You can hear the crack as ski jumpers land and see Orion’s belt in the sky. Mike Holland will be glad to hear he was not the only little kid to start in the middle of the inrun for his first jump on the k20. I think I spent a year swerving in from the side of the jump before I felt brave enough to start from the top. But slowly I progressed and fell in love with the sport. I loved the feeling of truly nailing a take-off and the victory of a perfect telemark landing.
As our skills progressed our coaches encouraged Dan and me to compete at other local ski jumps. Despite being the younger sister and the only girl, I was welcomed at every ski jump I ever went to. Bernie Dion Sr. created a special start for me on the Lebanon jump the first time I jumped there. I will always remember how kind and encouraging Tim Norris was every time I jumped at Andover. My coaches Buff McLaughry and Jeff Hastings encouraged me to jump at Dartmouth Winter Carnival when I was 12. I swear there wasn’t a scarier tower in all of New England but when your coach looks you in the eye and says you’re ready, at 12 you assume you’re ready. So off the knoll I skipped, happy to survive. I will never forget climbing up the snow-packed steps next to the landing hill and hearing a Dartmouth student after quite a few beers say, “my God, that’s a little girl.” (Next year Buff and I will have to collaborate on a story about the year Chris Tahta was determined to jump at Dartmouth carnival. Chris was a Dartmouth student from Argentina who played rugby…. his physique was more brick outhouse than ski jumper. It was our own Eddy the Eagle story. There was an abundance of courage but not much soaring. When he crashed, he left craters so big in the landing hill that the whole coaching staff had to rake them out. What I wouldn’t do to hear what we talked about at the top of the jump).
My brother and I zig-zagged across New England competing in various alpine races, cross country, Nordic combined, and even four-event meets (Ski jumping and slalom in the morning, GS and XC in the afternoon). Still to this day I love to ski, any and all kinds. The skills and strength I gained chasing each finish line would serve me in so many ways. I learned how to win, how to lose, how to get back up after falling, and hope to never be DFL. The strength from packing the hills each night helped my soccer career. The year I spent in low back boots made me one of the best at downhills when I raced cross country for Middlebury in college. Shout out to my parents for all the miles and gear, it’s mind-boggling to think about now. Plus, there was always chicken noodle soup in the thermos and Hersey bars in the vanagon at the end of the day.
In high school, I had to make a choice as my cross-country racing started to take off. Coaches and colleges encouraged me to focus on just cross country and give up ski jumping since there was no competitive route for me besides jumping against the boys. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up jumping so I decided to cross country ski race for New England at Junior Nationals but continue to ski jump for my boys’ high school team. Of all the teams I have been on in my life, the HHS ski jumping team was perhaps one of my favorites. As a team, we traveled to every ski jump throughout the state. Whether we found ice, dirt, shaky towers of perfect corduroy, Buff had us prepared. There was so much laughter and support, it was never too serious or too competitive but we did love to win. Once you stand at the top of the tower on a freezing NH night and decide as a team to go for it, you know your teammates will always have your back. One more time from the top, Maroon… Crush!
A few years back I ran into Jeff Hastings at a St. Patrick’s Day party in Park City. Jeff and I caught up about life and I heard the latest about Oak Hill, Ford Sayre, and the HHS Ski Jumping team. As I was getting ready to leave Jeff told me something that made me stop and think. He said, “Emily, you were simply fearless as a kid. Just fearless. I think the boys were always a bit nervous about what you were going to do because they knew they would have to follow if they wanted to keep up.” This was at a time in my life when perhaps I had not felt fearless in a long time and everyday worries of parenting, work, life, and how to juggle it all had crept forward. I went home and thought about my young fearless self and realized the courage was not innate. The fearless spirit Jeff saw was created by that special spot in the woods, my family effort, coaches who believed in my skills, supportive teammates, Oak hill, the stars, the encouragement, and the comradery. It’s what makes the sport so special.
As a ski jumper, you start by riding a small landing hill and trying not to snowplow. A jumper progresses to plopping off a hay bale, then the k20 is your first big test. But eventually, all the jumps that came before give you the confidence to try something bigger, better, harder. Sometimes you crash, sometimes you skip off the knoll but eventually, you learn how to perfect your technique. At that moment when you stand at the top, look out at the incredible view so few get to see, and decide to push out of the start, you become fearless. You are fearless not because you have no fear but because all the moments leading up to that gives you the confidence to push out of the gate.
As we roll into 2022, to anyone and everyone who has stood at the top of a jump and decided to push off, remember, you are fearless. And whether you last jumped yesterday or many many years ago, you can still push out of the gate every day and be fearless because you are a ski jumper. Have one.
Emily Boyle Fisher – December 31st, 2021
EMILY BOYLE FISHER