Steamboat skier epitomizes Fly Girls camp goals
July 3, 2015
Steamboat Springs — As accomplished as Lindsey Van is in women's ski jumping — in 2009, she became the first world champion in the sport and competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics — one of her greatest achievements didn't involve winning a medal or performing in front of international television audiences.
It is all about the admiration she receives from a group of young girls, with one Steamboat Springs resident — 17-year-old Logan Sankey — standing out.
"I'm psyched. I pulled her from ski racing to ski jumping, which is rare, because it usually goes the other way," Van said. "It's great to see her passion for the sport. She wants it. She really works hard, and she puts in the effort. I'm excited to keep working with her in the future."
A member of the 2014-15 USA women's ski jumping team and a pioneer in the battle to get the sport into the Olympics, a slew of recent injuries have turned Van more toward coaching than competing. While she has spent the last decade teaching, Van has only coached "full time" for about a year, a good portion of it coming through the Fly Girls program, organized by Women's Ski Jumping USA.
In its second year, Fly Girls is a five-week camp for young, female ski jumpers, most between the ages of 12 and 16. This summer, 12 girls were brought in to participate in the extensive training program, with Van again serving as one of the lead coaches.
The camp started this week in Steamboat Springs, week one wrapping up with Saturday's Ski Jumping Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill. The next four weeks of training will be spent in Park City, Utah.
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"We just kind of took the best 12 juniors in the country and brought them together," Van said about the selection process. "I met Logan last year at the start of this camp, and she's really improved. She really got the bug for ski jumping."
Sankey, a senior-to-be at Steamboat Springs High School, is one of two Steamboat residents invited to the camp this year, along with 13-year-old Annika Belshaw. Sankey was also part of the inaugural camp last summer, back when she was still on the cusp between being an Alpine racer and ski jumper.
By the time winter hit, Sankey was completely on board with ski jumping and was even invited to join the U.S. women's ski jumping team. Her reason for switching disciplines had a lot to do with Van and the Fly Girls program.
"We've all watched her growing up and being a ski jumper and going to the Olympics. She is kind of everyone's role model. She is that person you look up to," Sankey said of Van. "This camp totally changed my mind. I talked with some of the coaches and really decided I loved (ski jumping) and wanted to do it. I felt I could go far and compete at an elite level. It definitely fostered my excitement for competition and love for the sport."
Last month, Sankey was named the Spencer Nelson All-Star Athlete of the Year at the Colorado Ski Country USA annual meeting in Boulder. Her performance in last year's Junior Nationals in Alaska was what earned her an invite to the first Fly Girls camp.
After being accepted to the Fly Girls camp again this year, Sankey hopes to continue making strides much like she did last summer.
"It was such a great experience the first time … it was so fun. I got so much better," Sankey said. "I owe it to the camp. It's a good thing I think. It definitely is helping both me and all of these other girls find where they belong in the sport and kind of foster that passion for it."
And it's Sankey's passion to move forward in ski jumping that drives Van to continue coaching.
The purpose of the Fly Girls program is to develop the next wave of women's Olympic ski jumpers, and any time Van can win over a talented young athlete like Sankey is a huge boost for the future of the sport.
"It's actually the first convert I've had from one to the other. It's kind of a success for me and our sport," Van said about Sankey. "We are trying to build the sport for women again.
“We got to the Olympics and now we need more girls to come up so we can fill those spots,” Van continued. “This camp is kind of like a feeder system for that, but also to get girls around the country trained together and build courage, confidence, character … to be here with these girls and share my passion with them and what I've learned is inspiring for me."