Georgia E. Jones
Lake Placid, NY
This isn’t the first story I’ve written for the Story Project but many things have changed since that first one. My son, Jeffrey the ski jumper, died a year and a half ago at the too early age of fifty-seven. But this short story isn’t about that sadness but about how much ski jumping was a part of his and his family’s life.
He started jumping at 10 years old and never looked back. He always said that the first time you flew you were hooked forever. And he flew for almost 20 years. During those years there were times on the podium, medals, and trophies and of course falls, bad landings, lousy weather and sometimes life just got in the way. He got to travel a lot in Europe, have some outrageous adventures with teammates, and even went to Sapporo.
After he finally retired he wound up in Park City at John Bower’s request to run a jumping program at what was to become the Olympic Sports Park. He left Lake Placid with his puppy, Bear, in a beat up old van, drove to Utah and made a wonderful life there.
He went on to be a nationally ranked water skier and a spectacular telemark skier. I once asked him how he evolved into a tele-skier and he answered it was because of all the practice he did so he could get those extra points for the landings. As I look back I realize that the 3 sports he excelled at were all done with boards strapped to his feet!
During the most awful time in my and my family’s life, the kindness, caring and comfort that Jeffrey’s jumping friends shared with us was a lifeline. It was a testament to the closeness of the jumping community. It’s a unique group.
I’m sure from reading the many December stories through the years that ski jumping means lots more to us than towers and landings, suits and bindings. As I’ve found, at least in Jeffrey’s life, the friends and memories are really what it’s all about. He was so lucky to have found this niche and we need to be sure that others will have this same opportunity.
Jeffrey, or JV as he was referred to by many, was a big and joyful presence on and off the jumps. His parting left many holes for many people. One was filled for me as I made the drive from Hanover, NH to Lake Placid, NY for his memorial service last August. To say he was on my mind was an understatement, especially in that setting: bluebird day painting his Adirondacks glorious. I had the top down and was ripping it until I got to Mineville, NY where I fell behind 4 big dudes on Harleys and a slow rolling motor home. Damn. But what’s this? the Harley’s bust through the double yellow and smoke the motor home and… I am right on their tail! The next 8 miles were bliss though I could have used another 10 mph but for the Harley guys. At one point their tail man turned around and shot me with his finger. Not a good sign… I backed off a little further and when we came to the stop sign in Elizabethtown gave them a couple hundred yards. I’m a conflict avoider even with people who share my weight class. But the tail man was having nothing of it, he motioned for me to come up, I declined, he motioned again, I declined. I wondered if he was armed (what’s the carry law in NY?). I am a little white-haired guy in a foreign convertible, I was pretty sure our perspectives on safe stopping distance and politics were not aligned. His buddies moved through the stop sign and still he sat, looking at me, motioning. I considered throwing it in reverse and backing the 8 miles to Mineville… until, adrenaline coursing, knew I had to take my medicine. I rolled forward gesturing in every way possible that I was sorry for pushing them. But when I came aside, there was JV, swear to god, looking right at me- smile big and bright as the day- joyfully screaming over his pipe-less hog: “WAS THAT FREAKIN’ AWESOME OR WHAT!?! I HOPE YOU WERE HAVING AS MUCH FUN AS I WAS!”
And off he went.
And that was JV.