Making a jump to ski jumping, Steamboat’s Decker Dean sees opportunity
July 7, 2017
It wasn't that he hated cross-country skiing.
Decker Dean, who's grown up competing in Nordic combined in Steamboat Springs, said he loved the cross-country ski side of the sport, and it motivated him to get up early for workouts as much as any other part of the sport.
It never did quite fit him, however. He grew tired of consistently jumping into first place in the first half of a Nordic combined competition only to see his competition, often lesser jumpers but faster skiers, blow by him and win races.
This last winter the Junior World Ski Championships were the goal for Dean and the skiers in his class. He didn't qualify in Nordic combined, but he did qualify in special jumping — regular ol' ski jumping.
That was the evidence Dean needed to make a big decision about the avenues he should pursue with his athletic career.
"I'd been going back and forth for the past few years," Dean said. "I stuck with Nordic combined, and I loved it, but I see the chances and opportunity in special jumping, so I decided to make the switch."
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From the outside, that may seem like a relatively small decision. So Dean now gets to skip some cardio days? What's the big deal?
It's a huge deal, he said, and has already resulted in some pretty serious changes to his life.
His diet, for instance, required a total overhaul. Nordic combined athletes already train to be skinny but with some muscle to be able to tackle the grueling cross-country ski portion of the event. Ski jumpers aim to be even skinnier, with muscle-building focused on their lower torso to generate as much "jump" as possible at the end of the ski ramp.
"In Nordic combined, you work out, then fill your body up with calories and work it all out again. I changed my diet right away when I quit," Dean said. "I cut a lot of calories. I don't eat bread. I eat a lot of organic, healthy vegetables. You have to be really committed to that."
Dean's been a jumping standout in Steamboat for years, and when he comes onto the bar at the top of the jump at a big event like the Fourth of July ski jumping competition, the announcer bellows his nickname, "Decker Deannnnnnnn, the ski jumping machine!"
That Fourth of July event has always been special for him. He won it for the first time when he was just 12 years old. He had a decided advantage, being allowed to jump from a higher bar than some of his older competition.
That older competition included Olympic medal winners, but his results were impressive nonetheless.
He now joins a special jumping program that's grown in recent years and currently has six members on the national team.
Dean is going all in on ski jumping. He moved this week to spend the rest of his summer in Park City training. He's then planning to travel to Europe for training next month.
He'll return to Steamboat Springs to finish high school — he's heading into his junior year — but his course is set. He's chasing a future in ski jumping, and he'll chase it wherever he needs to.
"I have a passion for ski jumping. I don't love anything more," he said. "Ever since I was a kid, I've desired to do really well in it. Ski jumping, I'll work as hard as I can and do whatever I can to be the best I can be. "