Ford Sayre Ski Club – Norwich,VT
I can see the tops of the trees, close enough to touch if I just lean off the edge of this 32-meter-high ramp. Down the jump, the snow glistens under the lights. The end looks miles away. I feel dizzy. The trek up 97 steep, ice-encrusted steps has left me breathless, with plenty of time to let fear invade my mind. Am I ready? Will I be able to land this? My brother and coach are down below cheering me on under the bright industrial lamp, but I need a minute to close my eyes and steel myself for the big jump. No way to go but down.
Skis on, goggles on, I push myself forward and- Wait. How did I get here?
One afternoon in third grade, an Olympic ski jumper introduced us to his sport. It was the closest thing to flying I’d seen, and something I needed to try. I showed up with my downhill skis, ready to take on the world. I was going to be a ski jumper. Sure, I never made it past the landing hill that night, but I refused to stop there. I upgraded to official gear: skis taller than me and a kid-size purple jumping suit.
There were only two other girls on the team. Ski jumping is a male-dominated sport: boys being the focus of the competitions, with greater expectations to fly farther. We were the “cute” ones, who put skis on American Girl Dolls and read fantasy novels on the way to the jumps. There were no expectations, no role models to follow. My determination came from within.
But as I got older and the jumps got bigger, fear slowly wormed its way in. It was a fear of getting hurt, going too fast, spinning out of control. I became more cautious, putting up boundaries. Maybe I saw fear in the other girls’ eyes. Maybe I was subconsciously taught that women should be more scared than men—should show their emotions more. Maybe it was a fear of failure that had begun to fester in my soul like mold. Whatever the reason, I became afraid.
My greatest fear was the K32, our largest local jump. It looked like an Olympic hill, looming over the other jumps, striking dread into my heart. I was just fine on the K20, thank you very much. But no one pressured me to put my fears aside (like the boys). Rather, they coddled me and told me it was okay.
Around the same time, the IOC sanctioned women’s ski jumping, 90 years after the men. Soon, I memorized the confident stances of the U.S. Women’s Team in the poster above my bed. These new role models started to thaw my icy fear. I was interviewed at a competition and asked if it was my dream to jump in the Olympics now that it was possible. With my old chutzpah, I replied: “I’d like to try it someday!” But inside, my guts wrenched in turmoil.
As the season drew to a close, I set a goal for myself that was personally comparable to winning a gold medal: jumping the K32. I didn’t need to become an Olympian to prove to myself that I was brave. This was enough for me. My childlike confidence was returning, but it was no longer a blind trust. It was the understanding that there will always be a risk of falling, of failing—but the benefits are so worth it.
Now here I was, at the top of this sky-scraping jump, toes just over the edge, about to push myself off. I had the “OK” to go, all that was holding me back was myself. I took a breath. You can do this. You are brave enough.
Speeding down the in-run, I didn’t feel out of control. I felt right, confident, proud. And I knew I was unstoppable.