THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING BIG. January 1981… taking to the road in the green Ford LTD with Matt Petri and Hans Copeland (above).
Ford Sayre Ski Club
The enormous, gas guzzling, green Ford LTD floated down the road, its couch-like bench seats ideal for road trips. It was winter break after my first semester at the University of Vermont. Matt Petri, Hans Copeland and I settled into the LTD embarking on a 4,600 mile journey. Our goal was to improve as ski jumpers by training on a variety of hills.
While we were excited to jump on Olympic size 90 & 120m hills in Thunder Bay and Steamboat Springs, I was apprehensive being in close quarters with Hans and Matt. They were older, handsome, outgoing and knew each other well as classmates at St. Lawrence University. I felt socially awkward and had been spending most of my time with other engineering students who were more comfortable alone in the back of the library with a pile of text books. Nonetheless, off we went.
After a few painfully cold days of jumping in Thunder Bay were heading West on I-80 through Nebraska en route to Steamboat. Staying awake while driving in Nebraska is difficult. The flat highway stretches endlessly in a straight line toward the horizon passing nothing but cow fields. I drove, Hans slept on the back seat and Matt complained about the smell of the cows. The smell was so disgusting, I wondered how anyone could live there. Investigating the stench more fully, Matt rolled down the passenger window announcing that the smell was coming from the INSIDE of the car. I pulled over and Petri jumped out. Looking across the seat, the engineer in me was puzzled by heatwaves rising and distorting the view of Matt in the snowbank. It was then I realized that while reading road maps the night before, someone had neglected to turn off our spotlight. It had burned through the front of a wool sweater leaving a black hole that continued 7 inches down through the foam of the front seat.
This trip was the beginning of my more extensive travel in efforts to make the U.S. Ski Team. The combination of shared athletic goals and a litany of scary, funny, sad and happy experiences with fellow jumpers built bonds that last a lifetime. Our close friendships, unusual experiences and our struggle to master a difficult sport were cathartic.
As I improved and was named to the U.S. Ski Team, I recall Rex Bell commenting that he noticed such a transformation in me. While I still felt like the same person that piled into the LTD with Matt and Hans, socializing became easier. Our sport turned a quiet, reserved, socially awkward engineering student into a more outgoing, confident father, entrepreneur and coach.
This month marks my 9th year coaching young kids in Hanover, NH in the Ski Jumping club where Jeff Hastings introduced me to the sport 46 years ago. I’ve seen the same transformation in the young athletes I coach – the very reason I find coaching so fulfilling. I see their personalities transform as they confront their fears and master a scary, unnatural sport. I know first-hand that the confidence that young ski jumpers develop benefits them in countless ways throughout their entire lives.
What started with a cross country road trip in January 1981 may well have culminated (JUST 4 YEARS LATER!) in the moment captured above when Mike Holland set a world distance record of 186m in March 1985 in Planica, Yugoslavia. To see ABC coverage of this moment, click here.
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