|1972 Olympic Team- (L-R) Greg Swor, Ron Steele, Dana Zelenakas,
Lloyd “Snowball” Severud, Jerry Martin, and Scott Barry.
STORY No. 58
DANA “ZEKE” ZELENAKAS
Brattleboro Outing Club, Canaan College Ski Team, Minneapolis Ski Club, Harris Hill Ski Jump Committee, US Ski Team 1967-1972, 1972 US Olympic Team Sapporo, Japan
I have been involved with ski jumping in some form or another (jumper in all classes except super masters, coach, tournament director, and now a volunteer/worker) for the better part of 60 years and the best part has been the great friendships that I have made over the years (I’m sure a few enemies as well). I was particularly fortunate to have grown up skiing in the East, transplanted to the Midwest and then back to the East. Because of this migration, I developed many friendships all over the country so reading all the stories has brought back such great memories. I remember Frenchie falling and yelling on more than one occasion; being at the Westby tryouts when Winnie took that ride to save Jerry, yet I remember Jerry setting tracks at Kulm right behind Reinhold Bachler. Bachler womped the knob at about 60m and then Jerry planked them down at about 140m. Brisson just didn’t have the faith!; Doc Bland’s party room and Doc taking care of me when I beat in at Westby; Nipper, Dummer, Winnie, Timo, Corky, Pat and Jimmy Miller cracking you up until your gut split. Also, because I began skiing in the 50’s and have been connected to the sport ever since, – like all us old timers- have seen huge changes in the sport; from hill design and preparation (inrun tracks/track setters? – most of the time Westby and Pine Mt. were boiler plate!), to inrun and flight technique, to equipment and clothing. Just look at the pictures and it’s all positive.
Like Jay Martin and many of you, I have so many stories I could write a book, so picking one that stands out is really difficult. Should it be when I was a J-IV and I hadn’t jumped anything larger than an all natural 15m hill? I was going on my first trip away from home, Lake Placid. We were told the J-IV’s would be jumping the little jump so I was pretty excited. When we drove through Lake Placid late Friday night, we could see the lights up the TOWER of the 30m located behind the school. I was thinking, man I’m glad I don’t have to jump that hill. Well the next morning at breakfast we were told the J-IV’s had to ski the 30m. I think I turned every shade of white and just about puked breakfast. Well, to make a long story short, David Merrill and I were the only two to start from the trap door partway up the inrun and I finished dead last. I can remember at the banquet, Eric Merrill telling me that things would get better and not to give up. Well I didn’t give up and about 15 years later I made the US Ski Jumping team and later was named to the ’72 Olympic Team. How that all happened after you read these stories is beyond me. I guess I got lucky!
It could have been the time our Cannan College Ski Team traveled one afternoon to train on Brattleboro’s Harris Hill. Roger Dion (my coach) and I were the last two down that day and Roger wanted me to get more forward on the inrun. I did! I was on my chest when I went off the take off (bump if you’re from the Midwest) and drove my body into the knoll (knob) and then proceeded to egg beat all the way to the bottom. When I stopped, Roger was there. He had run all the way down from the top before I stopped bouncing. My ankle was somewhat torn up but I was none the worse for wear.
Or it could be another trip I took in 1969 to Finland (I think it was “69”). It was my first trip to Europe. I was with some guys from the Midwest (Adrian Watt, Dave Lundmark, Greg Swor) and Bruce Jennings from New Hampshire. Our first competition was Lahti and training didn’t go that well for me. I took a couple of good diggers and being the first trip, I didn’t really want to tell the coach (Gene Kotlarek) that I really hurt my shoulder on one of the falls. It was killing me and somehow I made it through the competition. After Lahti, Adrian and Dave were off to Vickersund for ski flying, Greg headed to the Jr. Worlds (can’t remember where, and Bruce and I got put on a bus to tour Finland for the Finnish Ski Week. Bruce and I traveled in a bus by day and competed each night in a different town. Bruce was sicker than a dog with the flu and I was really hurting from the pain in my shoulder. To top it all off no one spoke English and Bruce and I were from the East where we grew up on burgers and fries, not raw fish and vegetables. Well the last tournament was in a town I can’t remember, on a pretty big hill. It was Friday night training, snowing like a real New England Nor’easter and the wind was hard and horizontal. Guys were tipping over like it was going out of style. I remember being at the top, it was dark and no one to talk to. Bruce was 3 or 4 jumpers in front of me. I watched him kick out of the top and the next thing I saw were the yellow bottoms of his skis as he went over the knoll. A minute later everyone was running to the dip. Well somehow I made it down in one piece on that ride and when I skied over to Bruce he was holding the soles of his boots in his hands. He had literally torn the soles right off his boots. Later that night I beat in! They had scraped the hill to the transition but not the out-run. I guess I wasn’t in a telemark landing because it felt like someone had tied a rope around my ankles. I went down hard! I ended up spending a couple of days in the hospital with a bruised kidney. Needless to say that ended my first trip abroad. Ed Brisson brought me home while the others left for Holmenkollen.
Or should it be the time I skied into the creek that ran along the out-run of Silver Mine, Eau Claire, WI? I always drifted to the left and this time caught a ski in the unpacked snow and ended up completely submerged in the brook. I mean I could have used scuba gear. Keith Zeuhlke later named it, “Zeke’s Creek”!
If it sounds like I fell a lot, I did, just ask those that I skied with. But like Alana Maki-Foust, I never quit (if I had I would probably remember a lot more). To all of you who are keeping the sport alive; thank you for your dedication!
|Dana at the ’68 Olympic try-outs in Iron Mt., MI.|