Can you recall a situation where someone showed up at just the right moment to stand up for you, impacting your life forever? That’s what I call a hero. My hero showed up in an unexpected situation, and although my immediate circumstance didn’t change, my mindset did, causing me to approach life more fearlessly. I hope you’ve had a hero interaction, but if not, use this story as a reference and look for ways to make a lasting impression on someone else.
When I was twelve years old, which was a few years after I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the local Winter Sports Club promoted joining the Ski Jump team for free. I didn’t love ski racing and thought maybe ski jumping would be more exciting.
“I’d like to try it,” I told my mom without much forethought, so we walked over to sign-up table at the ski jump lodge located at the base of the jumps.
The coach looked at me and said to my mom, “Uh, ma’am…I’m sorry, but we don’t have a girl’s team.”
My mom cocked her head and furrowed her brow, and then smiled to the coach, “Well, that’s ok, she can just be a part of the team, whoever’s on it… Right, Shannon?” My mom looked to me for approval, but I opened my eyes in surprise, trying to convey my body language that I felt unsure if I wanted to commit. I’d been through this before when I was younger with wanting to play hockey and baseball, but there wasn’t a girl’s team. Never really a Tom-Boy, I was a shy and intimidated girl who loved sports, but had no desire to feel like the odd-ball on the boy’s team.
The ski jump coach said without emotion, “Ok, well…right now, girls are not allowed to go off the jumps. It’s too dangerous.” He pointed to the ski jumps. We all looked at the massive size of the 70 meter and 90-meter jumps. The landing was enough to scare the bejeebers outta me.
“If my daughter—” My mom started saying as I pulled her arm to interrupt her. She told the coach, “We’ll be right back,” as she put her index finger in the air. “Shannon, let’s go outside for a minute.” We walked outside the building.
“Mom, I dunno… I mean…” I glanced at the enormous jumps.
I could see the frustration in my mom’s eyes. “Shannon, if you have even the slightest desire to learn to be a ski jumper, you’re gonna have a chance.”
I lifted my shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” I wasn’t the type to push through adversity.
“I’ll be right back,” My mom went back into the building without me and had some words with the coach. She wasn’t gone for long and smirked as she said, “You can definitely be a part of the team, no problem.”
I never joined and never tried ski jumping. At the time, I felt intimidated and scared. It took about twenty years for me to realize that I needed the encouragement of a coach and/or other female athletes to have the confidence to pursue something so out of my comfort zone.
My mom was my hero. She fought for me. She is a fairly reserved person who doesn’t like to ruffle feathers, but she stepped up as a mama bear and roared for her baby cub. It wasn’t until years later that I would discover how her actions set a pattern for me to follow in my snowboard career and beyond.
Click the link to read an article about the women who finally made ski jumping history in the 2014 Olympics: https://www.olympic.org/news/carina-vogt-makes-ski-jumping-history
Eleven years later, in 1995, I stood buckled into my snowboard at the top of the outrun of a 90 meter ski jump for a big air snowboard contest. The Innsbruck, Austria Olympic ski jump facility hosted the Red Bull Air and Style Event, which introduced the big air straight jump to the sport for the first time. Over ten thousand people would fill the stadium that evening, but my friend Tina Basich and I were there during the daytime practice session because her brother Mikey was an invited competitor.
No one invited Tina and me, and from the moment we arrived and saw the massive jump crafted from scaffolding, we looked at each other with knowing eyes and smiled.
“Let’s go off this thing!” Tina said.
“For sure, we can do it.” I agreed.
Once we got to the top of the jump, we high-fived all the guys and buckled into our snowboards with giddy excitement. My mind flashbacked to the ski jump sign-up day with my mom. She wasn’t going to believe where I was right now. Just as Tina’s brother told us to follow right behind him with the same speed for our first jump, I got a tap on my shoulder.
“Excuse me, you are NOT allowed to go off zis jump,” said an Austrian laced voice from behind me. I looked back, and the man’s arm was across Tina to hold her back from moving forward. “You too,” he yelled to Tina, “You girls can NOT go off zi jump.”
“Why not?” Tina asked.
“Because you are girls… It’s too dangerous,” he said. I rolled my eyes at Tina and stuck out my tongue in frustration. I was done with this narrative.
“We can do this; we’ve been off bigger jumps,” I told him. That was a bit of a stretch because this was the hugest jump I’d ever seen, and I was feeling scared because it was a sixty-foot gap we had to clear.
Mikey stood up for us, “These girls can definitely go offa this jump.”
“Yeah, this jump is fine,” smiled Tina.
“NO! Girls are not allowed,” said the event guy.
“Oh, come on, dude… Let them go if they want,” said one of the other competitors. We heard a few more cheers from the other guys, “Yeah, let ’em go!”
“Yeah, we’re going off this jump,” I declared.
“Yeah, if guys can go, then we can go,” said Tina
“Please?” I put my hands together in a prayer gesture. “We can–” I said.
Tina agreed, “Yeah, we can do it, how about if we–“
“Ok,ok…How about… you can try out. If you can land the jump, then I’ll let you take two runs during the main event at night.” Our hopes were up. “But you will be an exhibition… zee judges won’t count you… you girls will be just the opening show.”
That sounded good enough for us. Tina and I solidified the deal with a handshake.
I have never been so nervous in my life. There was no turning back now. Tina and I high-fived each other and got advice from the guys up top to “point it.” That meant full speed ahead without turns to slow us down.
Tina went first; she cleared the gap and landed on her board but skidded out just after landing. It was my turn. I took a deep breath and told myself, “I’m doin’ this,” and pointed my board without a speed check. I wobbled through the air, put my board down, and then slid out, similar to Tina.
We hugged each other at the bottom, declaring, “We did it!” My heart was thumping out of my chest.
The following two tries, we landed and even got a grab on the last jump. The event guy followed through on his promise. At the main event, we soared off the jump twice in our pink outfits to proclaim we were girls with a packed stadium of cheering fans.
The live event commentator introduced us as the “Crazy American Girls.”
It may have taken crazy to step up and do something notable, but it was worth it.
It’s great when things come full circle. Even better is to have a friend like Tina and take risks and adventure together. My mom gave me a foundation and capacity to stand up for myself and for something worth contending.
It doesn’t take much to be a hero. It just takes standing up for others to help them on their journey. Let’s do this!
Check the link to see the article about how the “first” girls made history at the Red Bull Air and Style…Don’t see Tina and I?? Well, now ya know a little history from the 90’s which predates the internet! I’m so impressed by these girls’ skill and courage! https://www.redbull.com/us-en/first-women-participating-in-air-style-innsbruck-2017
For more history about the Air and Style event: https://whitelines.com/archive/features/kickers-changed-snowboarding-issue-87.html/3