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Art of Flight
It’s hard not to romanticize the sport of ski jumping. Struggle, redemption, fear, courage – themes that form the backbone of bestselling novels and ‘edge of your seat’ thrillers are everyday occurrences no matter the size hill being jumped or spectated.
To begin, ski jumpers are a rare breed. A scrawny, sinewy combination of speed, strength, and flexibility their bodies are matched with brains that balance between laser-focused intuition and perennial, temporary amnesia. “It’s a feelings sport” jumpers will tell you as they make their way back up the hill, their Sisyphus-like quest to perfect form beginning anew.
Sports fans adorn their beloved venues with reverent terms. Wrigley Field, whose name alone conjures visions of ivy-garnished outfield walls is known as The Friendly Confines. Fenway Park and The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field are synonymous with legendary matches. Yet none of these facilities match the awe and grandeur of an Olympic sized ski jumping hill, whose landing hill carries the viewers eye up, up, up as if a shark’s fin plunging out of the ocean’s surface, a sight both beautiful and terrifying. The ocean of white, flanked by ornamental banners of red and blue and sprigs of green crisscrossing the hill are a soaring visual manifestation of mathematics and physics, whose beauty is brought about by equal parts diesel fuel, frozen water molecules, and coffee-drenched physical labor.
Those brave enough to near the hill face an intrepid summit. Narrow ice-covered staircases cling crookedly to the side of the hill; like gap-toothed six year olds smiling for a class picture they’re missing risers, the steps inexplicably missing or desperately in need of repair. Yet the reward, the momentary sight and sound of a ski jumper hurtling past mid-air, skis spread wide in a sumptuous V formation, is beyond measure.
Romantic sentiment spills over into the preparation jumpers undergo during dryland training for flight. Hurdles are a featured element of dryland training, their explosive movements designed to increase the body’s fast twitch response to stimuli provided by the jumper’s eyes and ears. Through repetition each athlete grows progressively stronger and, unknowingly, acquires skills necessary to negotiate the inevitable hurdles that will intrude upon their lives, arriving without warning or provocation.
The cold, dark nights at Andover Outing Club have left an indelible fingerprint upon my life. While I’ve enjoyed many sunny days on skis, in surf, and the plunging cascade of epic mountain bike rides, I carry an unmatched sentiment for the sore-shouldered feeling of toting heavy Kneissel skis to the top of the Andover’s thirty meter, and the damp echo as they’re thudded down in the darkness of the starting gate. I often wish to salute co-workers, neighbors and friends with a “have one” before we part, yet I studiously keep that noble phrase to the privileged circle of those who’ve enjoyed the savory taste of human flight.