READY TO FLY
The True Story of a Dream Worth Fighting For
Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, Alissa Johnson, Abby Hughes, Sarah Hendrickson
Since childhood, as a wide-eyed seven-year-old ski jumper with a dream of Olympic flight, Lindsey Van has been an outsider in a man’s world. For the last 18 years she’s been fighting the naysayers, the doubters, and those who would have her believe that it’s her place to accept second-class status.
At 8, her male coaches tell her she isn’t built right, that ski jumpers are skinny and slight, not strong and womanly. Although Lindsey is far from fat, her coaches repeatedly tell her “fat don’t fly.” Damage to her body image notwithstanding, Lindsey Van can fly. And damn well. She’s stronger, has better technique, and can sail farther over snow-covered hills than any woman and most men on the planet. At 24 years old, she proves it by becoming the first Women’s World Ski Jumping Champion.
But the sweetness of victory is fleeting. Even though she out-jumps the world’s best men at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic venue, she’s still denied the chance to perform on the highest stage, in the Olympics. Why? Because she’s a woman.
Though the Olympics were created to allow athletes to compete without the burden of politics, religion, or racism, the International Olympic Committee has decided to forbid women from competing in ski jumping. It is the only Winter Olympic discipline that doesn’t allow women. Thrust into a fight that’s far bigger than her Olympic dreams, larger than ski jumping or even sport, she becomes the reluctant spokesperson for gender equality and women’s rights.
Swarmed by the international press, Lindsey Van breaks down. The tears come. And the press eats it up. No longer is ski jumping enough; now she has to be a crusader, a media darling, the fighter for a cause. But she didn’t sign on for that. She quits ski jumping and returns to the mountains where she can pull her goggles down and ski fast in complete obscurity.
And then, somewhere in the Utah backcountry, somewhere in the quiet of a mountainside, something in her changes. Maybe it’s a realization that she can change things for the young women who will come behind her, maybe it’s the joy of flight that she’s missing, or maybe it’s her fighting nature that won’t allow her to quit. After taking a year off of competition she comes back.
The International Olympic Committee reconsiders whether women might be allowed to jump in 2014, and again the world press turns to Van for reaction. This time, there are no tears. Only resolve.
But then she gets a call that could dash her Olympic dreams. Lindsey is the bone marrow match for a 49-year-old white male who is dying of cancer. She agrees to drop everything — even the World Championships — if she’s needed back home to provide a crucial bone marrow transplant to save the life of a man she’s never met.
Van has to refocus and lead her sport and defend her title in the World Championships in Oslo, Norway in February 2011. Thick fog rolls in and the IOC observer has a heart attack. With everything going wrong, Lindsey Van and her peers perform in a most unexpected way.