The last few years have been quite a ride for the US Women’s Ski Jumping team. There were court battles, World Cup victories, and the sport’s inclusion in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia. Read about the triumphs and adventures on and off the jump hill.
Fade in on legs bent, wrapped in colorful fabric and attached to skis rushing over a snowy jump. The crouched figure explodes off the bottom of the ramp, morphing from balled fist to cruise missile in less than a second.
See the figure soaring smoothly through the frozen winter air¬ in slow motion — body and skis forming three perfect lines against the white of the hill. Watch for what seems like minutes as the human blade cuts an arc through the heavens.
There’s something perfectly cinematic about human flight, something compelling about the people soaring through the air, refusing to be grounded. The US Women’s Ski Jumping Team has many celluloid-worthy stories, and there are many ways to tell them.
Let’s try a few.
Queens of the Hill
OK, so here’s your movie: a group of girls head to the Arctic Circle looking for ski-jumping glory, but take home more than medals—they win a group of lifelong friends and learn valuable life lessons in the process. It’ll be fun, lots of laughs to accompany the triumphs and tears.
It would be based on a true story, of course, ripping off experiences like the one Sarah Hendrickson tells about ice cream. “The time when we went to Finland and didn’t see the sun for like a whole week and we got back to Norway, and it was sunny and we all got ice cream and just laid out in the sun because we hadn’t seen it in so long,” says the 17-year-old superstar and winner of the first women’s ski jumping World Cup competition.
You’d include a trip to the world’s northernmost McDonald’s and a shot of the reindeer — “Sometimes they’re just on the street for display, but I’m pretty sure they’re heavily drugged and sedated,” says Lindsey Van, the North American record-holder for longest jump, and the sport’s first world champion.
How about a scene where Sarah teaches Jessica Jerome what a Justin Bieber is? Probably during a night Jessica — the 24-year-old, eight-time US national champion — spends with the team’s young bloods.
“I got stuck in the room with the two 17 year olds,” Jessica recounts. “And at first, I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me. You’re making me babysit.’ I was mad for about 20 minutes and I was like, ‘This is kind of fun.’ It’s goofy and they had like matching pajamas and they were googling baby animals and listening to music that — like, I didn’t know what a dubstep was — so I was like, ‘Oh, I can act like a kid and we can have fun together.’”
You need dramatic scenes, too. The times when the young girls get on the veteran’s nerves. The part where it “burns to the ground,” as Jessica puts it, that’s inevitable when a group of girls in their late teens and twenties spend months together. The longing for home and family. “One of our teammates said it pretty good once, she said, I sleep in the same bed as Jessica more than I sleep in the same bed as my boyfriend of six years,” Jessica says.
But mostly it would be about how friendship and fun can create an unstoppable force on and off the hill. Nothing shows it better than a scene like this:
Jessica: “Sarah and I had a pre-competition routine this year. Every competition, before we got out of the van, we would listen to just one Ke$ha song.”
Lindsey: “As loud as possible.”
Jessica: “Loud as we could.”
Lindsey: “The van is literally shaking.”
Jessica: “We’d just scream it at the top of our lungs, and then after the song was over, it was like, OK.”
Sarah: “Teams would walk by and they would be like…”
Jessica: “…What the hell?…”
Sarah: “— They all have their headphones on, completely zoned out.”
Lindsey: “Everybody has this serious look, like their grandma just died that day.”
Jessica: “It’s funny, too, because we had the most fun, but it showed in the results. We took away the Nations Cup by a lot. We crushed everybody.”
“I take a pack of USANA vitamins every day. I honestly do, I swear to God. I feel like I’m getting old. I don’t bounce back from things like I did when I was 17, 18.”
— Jessica Jerome, US Women’s Ski Jumping
Queens of the Hill 2: Jumping Around the World
So it’s a sequel. Same characters. Different locales. Different stories. This one will be a road movie that glides easily across a snowy map of the Earth. Equal parts hi-jinx and heart—there’s a good line for the poster.
We’ll travel with the women’s ski jumping team to places like Japan. It’s their favorite. “There’s this cool, stark contrast,” Jessica says. “You show up on a bullet train and everybody’s on their cell phones that can control the world, and then you sit down in your traditional robe and eat…”
“…On the ground,” Lindsey interjects.
“On the ground, exactly. You drink tea in a ceremony they’ve been doing for thousands of years. We’ve gotten in trouble sometimes for doing those cultural taboos that we’re not aware of, but it’s pretty cool.”
The girls will bond over the blow drier their coach travels with. They’ll cling to each other and scream when the team gets in two separate, minor car crashes — true stories that will add a dash of action. Lindsey will spend five traumatic days in the Munich airport. The team will get through a 40-hour, two-day travel nightmare after finding salvation in a Japanese airport shower.
And lest we forget the saga of the abandoned jumpsuit. A tired, groggy Jessica exits a plane in Munich en route to Poland. We’ll follow her down the breezeway and smash cut to the jumpsuits — precious cargo that’s “a pain in the butt to get perfect”—hanging alone and forgotten in the airplane’s closet.
“We went to get on our flight to Poland, and as I’m stepping on the airplane, I realize it, and I just look Lindsey straight in the eye and I said, ‘I have to get off this flight,’” Jessica says. “Everybody was like, ‘What? Why does she have to get off this flight? What does she know?’”
She’s reunited with her suits, and we’ll leave it open for a sequel to the sequel.
Basically, it’s a high-concept buddy cop comedy. Mixing ski jumping and crime antics isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but hear it out before you judge: Two women’s ski jumpers with a lot of history attempt to thwart a plot by mad men intent on blowing up a ski jump. And it’s funny.
Sounds a bit silly, right? But, without a doubt, Lindsey and Jessica could carry the movie. The decade or so they’ve spent together has fostered an easy timing that makes their playful back and forth sparkle.
“I can never describe this. Ever.” Lindsey is talking about what happens during a ski jump.
Jessica jumps in without missing a beat. “Usually you’re looking at your coach.”
“Go for it.”
“No, we should do this back and forth, like telephone. It’ll be fun.”
“OK,” Lindsey says, half convinced.
“So you get on the bar and you’re either looking at your coach or a light, and…”
“…And then your coach flags you and you get off the bar and you go about 60 mph, headfirst in…to…”
“Into the transition of the takeoff, and usually you can feel that force, like the Gs and the pressure, and you jump off the takeoff, headfirst…”
Lindsey laughs before picking up, “…And you fly through the air and you feel that your whole body’s like a wing, kind of, and you can manipulate it any way that you want. It’s kind of like putting your hand out at 60 mph and you go like this (she makes a wave motion), but with your whole body.”
“And you know whether it was good or bad. Usually you see about where you’re going to land, and you pull for that spot, or you try and pull past that spot to get extra distance. And you land.”
“Yep. And then you have to stop after going 60.”
Or there’s this. It’s the one you’ve been waiting for. It’s the big, inspirational true story of triumph against great odds. It’s the kind of transcendent sports movie people quote in locker room speeches and at graduations.
The story begins with our heroes in peril. Back in 2006, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) excludes women’s ski jumping from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, saying the sport lacks elite competition. Jumpers from five countries join a discrimination lawsuit, taking the fight for inclusion to the courts.
In 2009, a judge in British Columbia says the IOC discriminated against the women, but doesn’t order Vancouver to hold an event. After several denials for appeal in higher courts, our heroes’ dreams of Olympic glory are dashed.
But the fight continues for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. The girls take to the air, proving they belong at the highest level of competition. Cracks of hope start emerging, and in April 2011, word comes down.
“We sort of felt like we had a moral obligation,” Jessica says, speaking for Lindsey, too. “But it felt wrong and it was unsettling, and we felt like if we could help that in any way, we would do everything we could because, at the end of the day, we both love the sport.”
“There’s a whole lost generation of girl ski jumpers that are living real life and have kids and families now because it was just stagnant,” she adds. “And we didn’t want that to happen again.”
But that’s not the end of the story. “We’re just trying to push the sport forward, and that was part of the whole process, part of the puzzle,” Lindsey says. “It wasn’t entirely about the Olympics.”
There’s more in store for our heroes. World Championships. Injuries. World Cups. Training. Rehab. Sarah still has to ascend to the top of the podium nine times in 13 events during the sport’s first World Cup season. Lindsey still has to save a life.
Inspired by a former roommate who had a rare form of leukemia, Lindsey donated bone marrow twice in eight months to a man she has never met. She couldn’t help her roommate, but right after the 2011 World Championships, she flew to San Francisco for the first stem cell draw to help a stranger. The second came during the first women’s ski jumping World Cup event, ever. Lindsey was sidelined after ankle surgery.
“There’s bigger things in life than sport, and it was one of those things,” she says.
That’s what makes these women so fascinating. Ski jumping is just the start. You also have friendship, struggle, adventure, even comedy. But the real beauty is found in the blank pages awaiting unwritten triumphs. The obvious end is a jumper in a colorful fabric springing from her crouch into stiff, straight lines, flying down, down, down, through the air of the Caucasus Mountains near Sochi, soaring into the pages of history.
“USANA helps when we’re on the road. When we’re in Europe, we don’t get the nutrition that we need. Our diet is all over the place when we’re over there. So it kind of keeps a good balance.”
— Sarah Hendrickson, First Women’s Ski Jumping World Cup Champion
What You Need to Know about Ski Jumping
1. “We do not do flips,” Sarah says.
“Correct,” Jessica adds. “And we don’t land in a pool in the summer. Pools are aerials — freestyle. We are a Nordic sport.”
“If we do a flip or land in a pool, something bad will really happen,” Lindsey says.
2. There’s no lip on the takeoff.
“People are always just like, ‘That’s the one where you just hit the lip and go like this,’” Jessica says, making a takeoff motion with her hand. “No, it hangs at negative 11 degrees, so if you were just to slide off the ski jump, you would go 10 meters. There’s a very technical aspect in it.”
3. You never get comfortable jumping off a mountain. But when you’re one of the best in the world, that’s not a problem at all.
“I would say I’m more comfortable ski jumping, or in the air, than doing anything else, really,” Lindsey say. “And I like when it’s uncomfortable, and I like when I get scared. That one in a hundred jumps makes me come back. That’s what keeps me going. I look forward to those uncomfortable moments.”
4. Ski jumping is fun.
So watch it, and continue to follow Lindsey, Jessica, Sarah, and their teammates as they prepare for Sochi.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared on USANAToday.com.
*The mentioned athletes are either distributors or dedicated users who have received compensation for its partnership and/or complimentary USANA products.
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