The first-ever Fly Camp began as Fly Girls in the Summer of 2014 with the goal of developing the pipeline for women’s ski jumping. On the heels of the first-ever women’s ski jumping event at the Winter Olympics – a massive milestone, Women’s Ski Jumping USA recognized a lack of organized development for the next generation of young women’s ski jumpers. They understood that to keep the legacy of what was achieved alive, women’s ski jumping needed athletes for the future.
Since the Summer of 2014, the camp has grown tremendously. Last year USA Nordic included male athletes in the camp for the first time. The camp is still one-month long split half and half between Steamboat Springs and Park City. The camp includes female and male ski jumpers from Alaska all the way to the east coast between 13 and 16 years old.
This age group is no accident as this has been pinpointed as an important developmental age. According to world champion ski jumper and fly kids coach Sarah Hendrickson, “I feel like 13-16 years old is one of the most impactful times as an athlete.”
Another interesting aspect of the camp is the fundraising aspect. Every athlete is asked to fundraise money for the month-long camp. These athletes are provided with a platform to go out into their communities and ask people and businesses to support their cause. According to Alborn, “This helps them build character and self-confidence going out and asking people to support their passion and what they are all about.” Alborn goes on to say, “I am very pleased with how all the athletes did with this fundraising.” Women’s Ski Jumping USA also provides a grant for the female athletes and the rest of the costs are covered by USA Nordic.
For a whole month, these young fliers get to be coached by the likes of world champion ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, former American distance holder and Olympian Alan Alborn, Olympic ski jumper Abby Ringquist, and former junior world championship team member Colin Delaney. These coaches emphasize challenging the athletes daily. “Getting athletes out of their comfort zone is a big emphasis of this camp. So when the athletes leave this camp they have more self-confidence and more skill,” says Alborn.
For example, on Wednesday the athletes had a morning weight session in the gym and in the afternoon they learned how to paint landscapes with Olympic ski jumper Abby Ringquist. Yesterday the athletes ski jumped in the morning, went to the sky diving wind tunnel in the afternoon, then followed that up with some indoor surfing.
With a months-worth of action-packed days spent ski jumping and getting out of their comfort zones, these athletes become very close. “Probably one of the most rewarding things for me to witness is that connection and bond the athletes build throughout the camp,” says Alborn. That bond doesn’t just end when Fly Camp is over in August. According to Alborn, “When I see these athletes again later in the year, that group flocks together.”
When these athletes walk away from Fly camp in early August, they have newfound confidence, great friends, and a clear pathway of what’s in front of them. “We have several meetings throughout the camp explaining what is expected from athletes of their age,” says Alborn. For this month-long camp, the young athletes are put on a schedule similar to what the national team does year-round. As Alborn puts it, “We try to set the tone of the camp so that the rhythm they are given is similar to being on the national team. It helps them understand, this is really for me or this isn’t.” Luckily, for many it is. The original fly camp has produced eight of the current eleven women on the national and junior national team.
National team athlete Sarah Hendrickson didn’t have the Fly Camp opportunity as a youngster but has enjoyed her time with these athletes, “I love this age of kids. They have energy and drive that I remember having at that young age. Their desire to fly and improve is something so essential for this sport and I love seeing it day after day.”
This year’s 17 Fly Camp athletes mark the most of any camp to date. As Fly Camp comes to an end, these 17 athletes will take with them the lessons learned and friendships made, in continuous pursuit of something unique– flight.