By Nina Lussi, National Team member
The poster girl for ski racing worldwide — Lindsey Vonn — is perpetually in the spotlight. She has graced Wheaties boxes, befriended tennis legend Roger Federer and has even graced Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition. Behind the scenes though, there is another similarly named women’s sporting pioneer hard at work: ski jumper Lindsey Van.
It was March 18, 2005 when my coach Larry Stone told me I was ready to make the next step in ski jumping and take my first jump off of the K90 meter, Olympic sized hill in Lake Placid, NY. I was just 10 years old and our junior practice on the K48 meter jump had just wrapped up. I was smiling, confident and jumping better than ever before.
Larry came up to me afterward and pointed up at the massive tower, “Nina, don’t you think that would be fun?” He then pressed a postcard into my hand. On it was a smiling blonde haired girl clutching her Fischer skis with pink painted fingernails. I flipped it over and the small caption informed me that this was “Leaping Lindsey Van” when she was 12. I then scanned the hand written note and it was addressed to me! My breath caught in my throat as I read the scratchy handwriting, “I have heard great things about you and look forward to meeting you. Your Friend, Lindsey”. I looked up into Larry’s face, my mouth open in wonder and he just laughed. “See you tomorrow at 8:30 for warm up.”
Lindsey has always been my idol. I had seen videos of her jumping, heard countless stories from Coach Larry, and now I had this post card in my hand. “If Lindsey thinks I can do it, I guess I really can,” I remember thinking to myself. Beneath a warm, spring sun, I took my first jump off the K90. I remember walking up the grated stairs, watching the ground creep farther and farther away. Once I reached the top, I took a deep breath, trying to calm the anxious butterflies in my stomach and waited for my coach to give me the go-ahead. I slid out on to the bar, took one last look down the icy track and let go — sending myself speeding at nearly 60 mph into the unknown. Before I knew it I landed at 150 feet and threw my arms into the air in celebration.
I always try to make time to talk to young athletes, pushing them in their training and sharing inspiring stories about jumps the lengths of a football fields, just like Lindsey did for me. Anette Sagen, Daniela Iraschko, Line Jahr, Jessica Jerome, Ulrike Graessler, Lindsey — these women made up the front line and have brought us to heights we rightfully deserve. We will let you know when we’re ready to land.