|Taylor Hoffman summer jumping in Lake Placid.|
STORY No. 49
Lake Placid, NY
Lake Placid Ski Club
I have been ski jumping now for 27 years (started when I was 6, I turned 33, November 17th). About 10-12 years of this span I was competitive, the other 10-12 years is/was merely for fun. Over that 80% of my life, my ski jumping experience has molded me into the person I am today. Even though I am only still jumping for fun now, I am still learning new things about the sport & technique, and experiencing new feelings that keep me excited about it. Just this summer, in one of Lake Placid’s “Saturday Series” competitions that I try to attend every week, I won going 103 meters on the K90 with good attempt of a telemark (remembering how weak I am with no training). When I finally stopped on the grass, I dropped to the ground with my hands over my face and laid there… I think the other competitors thought I was laughing; truth is I was crying like a little baby with emotion because I couldn’t believe I just landed it!
I have met some of the best ski jumpers of all time, and even though they can be one of the biggest distractions when you are trying to compete against them, not every ski jumper gets the opportunity to be face-to-face with them in an elevator on the way to the top of the jump before a competition.
I have been guided by some amazing coaches and three that stick out in my mind are Chris Hastings, Larry Stone and Kari Yliantila. Chris was by far my most life changing mentor, and also a great coach. He was the reason I was such an amazing jumper by the age of 14… I bet there were less than 50 jumps in the rest of my career that could rival the jumps I had the last summer I was coached by Chris. He also taught me many lessons about how to treat other people, women (haha), moderation and how to be better in tune with my body & mind. The lessons he taught me I still reference and think about almost every day. Unfortunately I did not always use his lessons and treated him with disrespect when he asked me to turn down the offer to go to the US Ski Team when I was 14… one of the biggest regrets of my life, I was too young and he was right. The second coach, Larry Stone… Larry was my coach for many years and even though we spent more time arguing about his opinion of my jumping, he still always put me and the rest of the jumping community ahead of the rest of his life. Come on, how can you not have the utmost respect for such a knowledgeable and talented (music) person, who would throw it all away to choose a career path of coaching ski jumping in Lake Placid. He could have done pretty much anything else he wanted to do with his life, but he chose us, and no one can thank him enough to offset the sacrifices he made for us. Lastly there was Kari… even though a lot of guys did not agree with Kari’s techniques when it came to coaching and treating other people, he gave me the life-long knowledge that there is no one else in this world that can create your present and future, it is you… you are to blame for failure and if you work hard enough for something, you can achieve it… harsh but unfortunately it is a truth we all have to deal with at some point in our lives, for me, I was young when I learned.
I have met some of the best friends someone can have due to ski jumping. Just this weekend, I had one of my best friends (from ski jumping), Tobin Whitman, drive 5 hours from NYC just to surprise me for my birthday and see his god-daughters. Another life-long friend, Casey Colby, who is still very much in ski jumping, still gives me little tips here and there when I am jumping for fun, even though he doesn’t have to… he is also my go-to guy when it comes to insider info on what is going on in the present ski jumping world. I still have other ski jumping friends out there that I connect with over various means, and always have the memories of the good times we had on trips and the lessons they taught me along the way.
Ahh, then comes the experiences… I’m just gonna sum these up… how many teenagers get the opportunity to wake up every day to work toward a goal they have set years down the road? To spend every day training their butts off physically, using extreme concentration when on the jump and always thinking about a sport even when you are not actually doing the sport at the time…. To sit in class doodling the perfect take-off on multiple pieces of paper; to wake up in the morning and press play on the VCR and watch recorded World Cups before training; to travel (alone most of the time) at such a young age from one side of the world to the other; to have the determination to set your own schedules, to set your own training routines, to set your own diets, to set your own goals, to make your own life choices… How many? Very few, and fortunately for me, I was able to experience that.
My life-long goal was to make the Olympic Team, of course I wanted to win a medal, but to make an Olympic Team would have been more than enough for me. I had two chances, 1998 & 2002, and unfortunately I did not meet that goal. Through the lessons I learned in Ski Jumping and the way it has molded me into what I am today, when I look back I don’t blame the injuries… I don’t have other people to blame… I have me to blame. I made a lot of mistakes in my career; from girlfriend distractions, to serious attitude problems, to lack of discipline as an athlete… these were all reasons I was not the best ski jumper I could possibly be. I always had the best equipment, the best coaches, the best parents that were there to support me, everything I possibly needed at my fingertips, my biggest downfall was my mind. I could not let everything just happen. I always convinced myself that if I tried harder it would be better, and unfortunately in ski jumping, that is not the case.
When I look back, it does disappoint me that I never made an Olympic Team, but the experiences I had & still have when it comes to the sport of ski jumping far exceed this disappointment! I realize no one can ever take that back, and no one can ever take the knowledge I have collected over those years. Even today, I run my business (auto repair) from what I have learned… even with 6 employees, in the end, the only person I depend on and blame is me… I make my own future and I can make it change with a lot of hard work and then just letting things happen..
Lastly, I want to give some special “ski jumping career thanks” to:
Doug & Carol Hoffman – for always believing in me and supporting me even though I didn’t always show my appreciation when I was jumping. Without you guys, I would have never had all of these unbelievable experiences, and I would not be the person I am today… there is not enough thanks in the world I can give you! My amazing wife Kari – for letting me take a couple hours a week to take some jumps and keep my blood flowing… we have very busy lives together, but you support me with this and it means a lot to me! Chris Hastings – For being one of the best coaches/mentors anyone could ask for. Your impact on me was life changing and I still use your given knowledge today. Larry Stone – For putting up with my BS every day and ALWAYS supporting not only me, but the sport, while making your own sacrifices to do so. Casey Colby – For always be such an unbelievable friend, the years I was able to travel with you were my best, you always kept me honest! Tobin Whitman – For spending the last of my ski jumping years with me, and for always being on the other side of the phone when I needed you. And of course, for being my partner-in-crime… the last years of jumping may not have been my most productive, but they were for sure the most fun!Lastly, thank you to all the other jumpers, coaches, judges, officials who have touched my life at some point in time… thank you for sharing so many experiences with me, thank you for always supporting me, and most of all, thank you for taking the time to read this!