Tag Archives: skiing

Lindsey Van, champion in many ways

Lindsey Van at 2009 World Ski Championship
Lindsey Van at 2009 World Ski Championship

There are winners, and there are champions. And today – the very first day that women ski jumpers have ever competed in the Olympics – seems like the perfect day to single out a champion.

“My goal is to make the Olympic team, for girls,” declared ski jumper Lindsey Van in a tv interview back in 1996. She was eleven. It would be 18 more years – until today, February 11, 2014 – that it took her dream to materialize.

Not just 18 years of training. But 18 years of – quite literally MAKING the team. As in creating it. Lobbying the Olympic Committee for it. Fighting for it in courts and in public. Willing it into being. And although Lindsey didn’t win the medal we were all hoping for her, those women who did, owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her tireless fight on their behalf.

[Today’s winners were Carina Vogt of Germany; Daniel Iraschkostotz of Austria; Coline Mattel of France].

Not many of us probably even realized that women ski jumpers were excluded from Olympic competition by officials who considered the sport “too dangerous” for women. Even though the women were competing neck-in-neck with men in world championships since 2006, when the International Ski Federation allowed them in. And decades before that on slopes all over the world.

A 2011 documentary “Ready to Fly” by William Kerig, captures this struggle. It’s a brilliant film, one of the most moving stories I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, where it won top awards.

In 2009, Lindsey won her Gold Medal at the World Ski Championships at Liberec, CZE and held the North American record for distance (94 meters) until this year.

She was the favorite heading into the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but of course – there was no ski jumping for women in Vancouver. And there wouldn’t have been any women’s ski jumping today if Lindsey and her teammates hadn’t filed suit against the Olympic committee. It was a victory hard won. And bittersweet for Lindsey, whose best chance at gold was four years ago, not today at age 29.

But if anyone can claim victory, if anyone can be called “champion” for her sport and has cause to hold her head high when other women accept their medals, it’s this petite skier from Salt Lake City who fought to make today’s Olympic competition possible – when everyone told her to go away.

Adventurer of the Year: Josh Dueck

Josh Dueck
Josh Dueck won a Silver Medal in the Vancouver Paralympics, 2010. Photo: Freeskier.com

Part 7 of our look at National Geographic’s candidates for “Adventurer of the Year.”

The first time I saw Josh Dueck, he rolled onto the stage at the Banff Film Festival and the crowd shot to its feet. They had come to see the “Radical Reels” films, but clearly were more stoked at seeing him as their MC for the night. I could see why. Not only had Josh brought Canada a silver medal in the Vancouver Paralympic Games, but he had just become the first skier to ever land a back flip in a sit ski. Talk about unstoppable.

Since his paralyzing injury in 2004, Josh has gone on to have a bigger career than most able-bodied skiers could hope for:

Josh Dueck has won more medals since his paralyzing ski injury than ever before. photo: Hannah Johnson
Josh Dueck photo: Hannah Johnson

1st Place Mono Skier X (X-Games, Aspen 2010)

3rd Place Mono Skier X (X-Games, Aspen 2012)

1st Place Downhill, World Cup (Whistler 2009)

1st Place Downhill, World Championship (Korea, 2009)

1st Place Super G, World Cup (Panorama 2012)

The list goes on, but you get the idea. The guy is a powerhouse, he loves to shred. He lives to shred. He may have been dealt a really lousy card, but if anything, this has only powered him forward to become, not just a world champion, but a world class inspiration.

What’s so refreshing about Josh, when you read his blog or see him interviewed, is the clarity he shines on life and what really matters. This odyssey isn’t one he willingly undertook. To sever your spine at the beginning of your career would be enough to stop most guys cold. Period. Over. Retreat into self-pity, or worse. That’s not Josh. Not only did he become a better skier, he became a bigger person. Open, articulate, refreshingly honest. Take this excerpt from a recent trip to Colorado:

To summarize, I skied like crap. It was a rough stretch of getting my arse kicked by the mountain, myself and the other athletes. I could get into the details but it’s no more than a long list of complaints that equate to a poor outlook on the challenges presented. Leaving Colorado feeling quite discouraged I did my best to keep my head up and focus on the simple fact that I get to ski for a living and that’s pretty awesome. I trust that with some minor adjustments and a bit of hard work that the rest of the details will inevitably sort themselves. — from JoshDueck.com

The day Josh took his back flip onto an airbag on the slopes – his first real run on the ramp he would use – was the day he heard his close friend Sarah Burke had died of injuries sustained in Park City.

“We just got the phone call that Sarah had passed away. I just fell over. We were in a place that Sarah absolutely loved, and it was a good afternoon to be doing what we were doing. Instead of being afraid to hit the airbag, I said, I know exactly what Sarah would do. She loved to be afraid and overcome those challenges. There was no question. I said, “We’re doing this.” Her energy carried through what we were attempting to do that day.” – excerpt from Nat Geo interview.

To find gratitude where others find only adversity… might just be the rarest of qualities any of us can learn.

Personally, I’m not sure if Josh is a better skier or a better human. Whatever strength he’s tapped to lead himself through this new chapter in life is pretty damn amazing. He may not be superman, but he puts it out there. He lives life like a champion. Not because of his achievements, but because of his vulnerabilities. And his remarkable ability to look past them and say, “Yes, we’re doing this.”

Don’t forget to vote by Jan. 16, 2013.