Utah ski jumper headed for new height
Friday, June 19, 2009 7:57 p.m. MDT
By Wendy Leonard
Brenna Ellis took her first jump at age 7.
She was in the air for several dozen seconds, had no idea when or where she was going to land but knew in a second that the newfound sport would occupy her attention for years to come.
"It's an adrenaline junkie's sport," she said, likening the "free-fall" feeling of ski jumping to that one would get sky-diving or base-jumping.
For someone used to soaring through the air on a slim pair of skis, its going to take the Westminster College sophomore a while to get used to going to school – on the ground. The 21-year-old, who has more than once been accused by teammates of being "so in the zone," has said she is ready to put the world of snow-covered mountaintops and Olympic-size competition behind her to pursue another dream — finishing college.
"I had been going back and forth for a while, but at the end of each season after I had a month off I was ready to go back to the sport," she said. "But after I hurt my knee and wasn't spending a lot of time on the hills or with the team, I realized I was much happier doing other things."
For Ellis, whose body is built for competition, "other things" include other sports, such as soccer, as well as more time to study. She still gets her fill of the back country working as a gear tech for local online retailer, backcountry.com, and she is majoring in environmental studies.
"It's really been hard to keep up in school," she said. She is officially retiring from the first Women's U.S. Ski Jumping team, which was formed in 2003 to help women jumpers pave a path to the Olympics.
For the past 14 years, the Park City native has been flying off ski jumps, year-round, hills constructed with K-points from 65 to 120, with her longest jump keeping her in the air through 123 long meters. She placed second in the K90 at the 2007 and 2008 Nationals. Of all the hills in the world, her favorite is in Einsideln, Switzerland.
"There are no words to explain the feeling you get up there," she said. "There's so much pressure because of the speed you're going and you can't hear anything, it's just exhilarating."
The pale blue foam suit, helmet, boots and goggles, all plastered with reminders from the team's sponsor, Visa, not only help with aerodynamics but have been a standard part of Ellis' wardrobe over the years. Its a lifestyle she lived six days a week, for several hours each day, training for the day when the women's team might be able to compete in full-fledged Olympics.
"Brenna has been a big part of women's ski jumping in the U.S. and she should be very proud of her pioneering efforts to gain attention for this rising sport," said John Farra, U.S. Nordic Program Director. "She was a key part of one of the best teams in the world for two-and-half years."
Ellis not only learned to perfect her jumping technique, but she learned discipline and how to get along with teammates for extended periods of time as they traveled the world looking for the best snow.
"It was more than just being a part of the first women's ski jumping team," she said. "I love knowing that I participated in a sport that isn't very well-known." Ellis will always love skiing and jumping and may never move far from the hills of Park City, but she knows where she'll be for the next 24 months, and she couldn't be happier.
"I never wanted to throw my whole life away on those hills," she said. "Fourteen years is a long time. I'm ready to find what else is out there."