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Maddy and Caleb Zuckerman with coach Mike Holland.
Norwich, VT – Ford Sayre Ski Club
“How did your kid get into ski jumping?” As the parent of two ski jumpers, I have been asked this question over and over again. Friends, family, and strangers are absolutely intrigued about the entry into this winter sport. And these repeated conversations have given me time to reflect, wonder, and question my sanity. But, for what it’s worth, this is how my son, Caleb, became a ski jumper.
We had recently moved to Vermont to the end of a short, but treacherous dirt road. Which meant, that when my kids were young and we were hit with a big snowstorm, we stayed put and made our winter fun happen in our own yard and woods. One year, right after Caleb’s second birthday, we had been home for days and had spent several hours sledding, angel making, and snowman building. Cabin fever was beginning to set in, so I decided it was time to mix things up. After a quick two hours of dressing my two preschoolers into their winter suits and boots, we finally went outside. Then, I strapped them into some skis for our first family cross-country ski experience.
I took the lead like a mother duck and set some tracks for them to follow. And in line with my own cautious nature, I made an easy mostly flat course, with just enough small rolling downhills to make it thrilling for young novice skiers. My kids were doing a great job of keeping up with me and obediently staying on course right behind me. Until…I heard my daughter, Maddy, start to giggle and exclaim, “Yay, Caleb, Go!”
So, I turned around to join in the laughter and see what my rascal of a toddler was up to. But instead, what I saw threw a blanket of fear over my body, immobilizing me on the spot. Caleb had gone off my careful, deliberate course and was aggressively skiing straight to the edge of a five-foot snow bank. As he reached the edge, he crouched down low and launched himself into the air. As Caleb hung suspended in the air, I felt my heart bursting through my chest and could hear nothing but the turbulent flow of blood pulsating in my head. What had I done? My fun morning winter adventure gone so wrong!
But, alas, my fears were quickly laid to rest as Caleb landed the jump and turned to a stop. Maddy exploded with glee and I swear Caleb did a mini fist pump. I stood staring in disbelief trying to recapture my normal heart rhythm when I heard the voice of my kind neighbor call across the yard “That’s how it all starts, you know!” At the moment, I just appreciated the camaraderie, thinking of course she understands, she raised three boys. But, not until some time later would I truly comprehend the meaning of her words. Since I was new to town, what I didn’t know at the time was that my neighbor, Susie Hastings, was the proud mom of some pretty well-known ski jumpers.
Fast forward five years and many flying stunts later, Caleb came home from first grade with some exciting news. “Best day of school ever!” he exclaimed at pick-up. “A nice man named Mike brought a cool machine to my PE class and we were flying in the air onto a mattress. It was awesome and he said that I could come to Oak Hill and do that on skis. I’m going to be a ski jumper!” How could I say no to that enthusiasm? So, Caleb went off his first ski jump that winter under the coaching of Chris Hastings (my neighbor’s son), that nice man Mike Holland, and eventually Mike’s brother, Joe (another set of local ski jumping brothers that you may have heard of). And he hasn’t stopped jumping since.
To say that Caleb, who just turned 13, is a ski jumping enthusiast is putting it mildly. With his walls covered with ski jumping posters, drawings of ski jumpers on all scraps of paper, and every school essay and poem written about the sport- he lives and breathes ski jumping. So, how did he become a ski jumper? I’d say a combination of a love of skiing, pure luck in living near ski jumps, having local stellar enthusiastic dedicated coaches, and an innate desire to fly.
Caleb- the early years- showing some serious shin angle