Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gusty Heroine Types

As a writer, one of my jobs is to create characters that readers will want to stick with for an entire book or series of books. These characters must be interesting. Something about them must be special or unique - larger than life. I like to read about these types of people, too. I look for books with gutsy heroines - you know the kind; they face the world head-on. You could throw every obstacle imaginable at them, but they will keep on keeping on. They're strong. They're determined. They're what we wish we could be.

Sometimes, those kind of characters pop up in real life. They're usually not flashy and loud about it, but you can just tell just by looking at them that they are the ones to watch. They're going to take the long road, to face disappointments and set backs and keep standing tall. They're going to lead the way so the rest of us can follow.

The new women members of the US Ski Jumping Team are a prime example of what I'm talking about. For most of their athletic careers, they've faced inequity and ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, but they haven't let it slow them down. They dreamed of a chance to compete on a world stage, even when there was no guarantee it would ever happen. They've shown - and continue to show - a man's world what a woman can do.

You want gusty heroine types? Let me introduce you to a few:

LINDSEY VAN started jumping when she was seven years old, back when the Winter Sports Park in Park City was first built as part of the bid to bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake. Lindsey was hooked, and told her mom she wanted to pursue the sport and compete in 2002. She never stopped working toward that goal, even when it meant moving to Lake Placid to train when the jumps in Park City were being reconstructed for the Olympics. 2002 came and went, and Lindsey never got to compete in the Olympics. There is no women's ski-jumping event, you see. It's the only Olympic sport (along with Nordic combined) wherein women are not included.* Still, Lindsey kept at it. The number two jumper in the entire world, she set her sights on the 2006 Olympics. Stil no inclusion for women. Now the goal is 2010.

One of the first things I noticed about JESSICA JEROME was her sense of humor. Even in the face of a lot of disappointment as far as the Olympics are concerned, she always seems to have a smile on her face. Jessica got a little taste of the Olympics in 2006 as one of only two girl frontrunners for the ski jumping event. (This basically means she jumped the hill before the (male) competitors to test speed, wind, etc. As the number three women's ski jumper in the world, she should have been able to compete, not just forerun, but I digress...) Jessica is a role model for scholar athletes everywhere - managing to maintain top grades even with a tough training and competition schedule. Sports Illustrated listed her as one of 2005's 'Noteworthy Faces in the Crowd.' Interesting, but I contend that hers is a face that stands out from the crowd.

ALISSA JOHNSON has guts. In 2003, she wiped out on the K90 and ended up unconscious with a concussion, missing half the skin on her face. A week later, she tied with Lindsey Van for 2nd place on the K90 jump. Later than season, she had another accident, this one requiring surgery and physical therapy and taking her out of the circuit for five months. But if you think that's hard, try this; in 2006, Alissa traveled to Italy for the 2006 Olympics... but only as a spectator. Her younger brother Anders, who will freely admit Alissa is the better athlete, got to jump in the Olympics, but Alissa couldn't because she is a girl. No stranger to pain, Alissa took it like a pro, cheering for Anders and fielding interviews from the international media without letting bitterness overwhelm her. She continues to train hard and looks forward to Vancouver, where, IOC willing, she will not have to watch from the sidelines.

ABBY HUGHES is another tough cookie. She may be the youngest member of the US Ski Jumping Team, but she's not one to let age - or gender - slow her down. Get this - in 2004, she competed as the only girl on the boys' team. (And helped bring her team a second place finish, I might add. In the girls' division, she placed first.)

BRENNA ELLIS isn't afraid to compete in a guy's world, either. When she first started jumping, Brenna competed in the Nordic combined event, which combines ski jumping with cross country (Nordic) skiing. She was often the only girl among all the boys. And she kicked butt! Check out her smile. This is how I always saw her - smiling. Gotta love the attitude.

Here's to gutsy heroines. May you all live happily ever after. Go Vancouver 2010!

* The reasons for Olympic exclusion are complicated and varied - from the downright silly ("It... seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view") to the misinformed ("there may not be enough interest internationally in women's ski jumping.") The FIS (International Federation of Skiing) recently voted to give women a world class event in 2009, which they needed to have in order to qualify for consideration by the Olympic committee. Now the decision rests in the hands of the IOC, who, one presumes, will be wise enough to bring the Olympics into the twenty-first century and include women in ALL Olympic sports.