If I’ve heard Dad preach it once to the Lab Rats, I’ve heard him say it a million times.
Take off like you’re ending a bad relationship.
And he should know.
Step 1: Don’t create unnecessary friction.
In other words, don’t let the skis brush the side of the tracks during the inrun. It’s a stupid way to lose speed.
Step 2: Break up. Don’t be broken up with.
Wait too long and a jumper can find herself trying to launch off nothing but thin air. Take off while there’s still something solid under your feet. Seems like that’s one bit of advice I should have taken from Dad.
Step 3: Lean into your death.
Everything dies eventually. Airtime. Blair time. And Dad is right. The difference between losers and winners is simple. Losers pull back from the terror of take off. Or maybe their grief that the run, while it was good, has ended. Winners lean into their deaths and live to fly again.
I am a winner. I do what I was trained to do.
But not until I breathe.
In and out. In and out. One hand on my stomach over the body suit I wear. One hand pressed against my helmet. Not much in the way of protection, all things considered.
In and out, in and out, I breathe. Until they peel off and float away, the faces I wear. Blair’s betrayed. Kate’s one-night stand. Mom’s abandoned child. Dad’s last shot at gold. They float away on the exhalation of breath. Already I feel lighter. It’s tempting to rush toward the take off, but still it tugs at me, the weight of the last and heaviest thing I need to shed.
The instinct to live another day.
Trust me, jumping with baggage like that is no way to fly, though it is a good way to die.
I trace the tracks of the jump with my eyes and imagine what is to come. My calves and thighs stretched as I crouch low and center myself. My core muscles driving me forward. The steep slope of the jump and the strong pull of gravity and me, cheeks flapping against the wind, hurtling into the unknown.
My breath drags in deep and pushes out hard. Bits of spit come with it, but I don’t care. There’s no one around to impress or talk me out of this crazy shit.
In and out, I breathe. In and out. Five counts in. Seven counts out. The start bar grows warm beneath my ass and that won’t do.
His voice blasts through the megaphone. “Some time today, El?”
It comes to me, finally, the sharp edge I need. Without mercy and cutting deep, it carves into me until I am hollow even to my bones and ready to fly.
I stand, crouch low, and then I am speeding down the inrun—thirty miles per hour, forty, fifty, sixty. Adrenalin floods my body, arming me the way a bullet arms a gun. The way a thumb cocks a hammer. The way a finger pulls a trigger. Until I EXPLODE into the space between heaven and the hard ground below.
Time slows. Stops.
Thinking slows. Stops.
My body takes over. I spread my skis into a V in front of me and lean forward. Far, far forward. Beyond the edge of sanity and yeah, I’m not gonna lie, it’s scary as hell. Standard ski jumping equipment should include a pair of wings. Sure would help with the flying part and they might come in handy in the event a jumper lands at the pearly gates.
I reach out with my arms and hold them parallel to my body. They’re not quite wings, but they give me some stabilization as I fly. I’ve taught my upper body to stay loose in case the wind changes.
And the wind always changes.
I shift a little to my right to correct my course. My eyes stare down the knoll of the hill to the K-Point, the line that marks the average “par” or achieved distance on the particular jump. In ski jumping all the difficult math is saved for calculating flight formation angles to achieve maximum lift. The actual scoring part is simple. Land behind the K-Point and lose distance points. Land ahead of it and gain distance points. Manage to fly without looking like a floundering albatross and gain even more points for form.
I fly with the shifting wind and merge into it. Two seconds. Three. Four. I stop counting because the wind has ceased to be wind and has become my breath and the deepest place inside of me has blown wide open. I am no longer Eleanor Engebretsen. Or Ellie. Or even El. I am no longer seventeen, or made of flesh and bone, or ruled by my head or heart. I am me. Nameless and uncontainable and free.
Of course, it has to end. Nothing this good lasts forever. Bit by bit, I descend toward the ground and pull my body back in preparation for landing. I spread my arms and bend my knees as I move one ski behind the other. It has come to this. From inrun to take off to flight time to this moment. The things that can go wrong during a landing are incalculable. Over or under correcting body rotation. An unbalanced distribution of weight. Hell, even a bump in the snow. Any number of factors can turn nirvana into nightmare in no time at all and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve wound up looking like road kill in the landing zone. But not this time.
This time the magic happens. One ski and then another, I touch down with a fluidity that tells me I just nailed full points for form.
“Fuck yeah!” I drop my arms by my side and ski toward Dad and Jack at the bottom of the hill. It’s a cocky move, but I’ve earned it so I cut deep into the snow as I approach them and send up a sheet of slush and ice.
Published by Bold Strokes Books
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