A shot from Cannon
Olympic ski racer Julia Ford: A shot from Cannon Mountain
FRANCONIA -- On a sunny afternoon at Cannon Mountain earlier this month, Julia Ford's smile was as brilliant as the bright sun as she took a few practice runs while family, former coaches and admiring young ski racers from the Franconia Ski Club watched in awe.
The 23-year old Holderness native had been racing on the World Cup circuit and was looking forward to tackling her next big challenge: competing at the Sochi Winter Games.
Better known as a downhill specialist, Ford is scheduled to make her Olympic debut in the slalom on Friday.
"I'm fired up about it," she said before departing for Russia. "I'm skiing for my country and all my friends and family, and I'm more than excited to represent them at the Olympics."
Whether she's skiing at Cannon or on the world stage, in the downhill or the slalom, Ford is driven by the same basic motivation: She loves to go fast.
"It's just a different feeling you can't get anywhere else — the speed, the energy you produce yourself as you're going fast, and it's just the freedom I don't feel I can get anywhere else," she said.
Ford received a good deal of attention during her day at Cannon, and she graciously met with young ski racers from the Franconia Ski Club to chat and sign autographs. She was more than willing to do that, she said, because it wasn't that long ago that she was one of those kids training at Cannon with her Holderness School and FSC teammates.
"The attention is different," she said of the recognition that comes with being an Olympian. "I'm trying to get used to it because it's new. I'm used to just putting my head down and getting to work, but now with everyone around and really excited for me, it's cool, and it's nice to have everyone psyched up."
Now living and training and in Park City, Utah, Ford was thrilled to return home to New Hampshire and make a few runs at Cannon Mountain.
"I love to be back here and at Cannon," she said, a broad smile crossing her face. "We call coming back home and doing some skiing 'getting some home-cooking' before heading off to do races. This takes me back to where I came from and reminds me why I ski and why I love it, and it's awesome to see all the people I love and who helped me get to where I am. It's always nice to come back."
Staying sharp for Sochi
Sochi and the Olympics, she realized, would provide a far different environment.
"I've been trying to anticipate how I'll have to try to control my emotions and the pressure, but I'll just get in the gate and take a deep breath and smile and just go as fast as I can," she said. "It's the Olympics and anything can happen, and I have nothing to lose."
Before departing for Russia this past Saturday, Ford stayed sharp by training and skiing in NorAm races in Canada. Even before that, she said she was ready for her Olympic debut.
"It comes down to preparing for it, and that's what I'm doing here at Cannon, and during the next two weeks, I'm going to prepare the best I can, mentally and physically, so when I'm in the gate I can say I've done everything I can do to perform the best I can," she said. "Ski racing is a funny sport; you never know what can happen — weather or the course — and I'll take it day by day until I get there."
Proud coach, parents
Watching Ford train and provide coaching were some of her former Holderness School coaches, including Georg Capaul. "She was absolutely great to coach," said Capaul, now assistant athletics director and director of snow sports at Holderness. "She listened well, worked hard and was always the first one out on the hill and the last one leaving the trails. Julia always executed well and asked questions."
Capaul coached at the 1988 Olympics and was thrilled to welcome Ford to the Olympic family.
"It's fantastic. To make the Olympic team is an achievement, and to become a member of the Olympic family, it's big," he said."
His advice to his former pupil: "Enjoy it, and go for it."
Ford has fond memories of her time at Holderness, where her father, Duane, is director of residential life and assistant football coach, and her mother, Lori, is an assistant ski coach.
"Holderness was a great experience for me because I was a three-sport athlete, which I wanted to pursue in high school," she said. "I was able to ski, play soccer and lacrosse, stay at home and get my education, and that kept me really well-rounded.
"I think this lifestyle — with all the travel and dealing with different people — that Holderness prepared me well. I learned to work hard and about sacrifices, so when I moved to the U.S. Ski Team, those were attributes that I had to keep going and work hard."
Lori Ford, who was coaching in Vermont while Julia was a student at Holderness, nevertheless has had a close-up view of her daughter's development into a world-class skier and Olympian.
"Julia has always loved this sport," Lori said. "She has a great passion for it, and she goes out and has fun and enjoys what she is doing, and she is a hard worker. I'm excited for her."
The days Ford spent at Cannon this month coincided with the Franconia Ski Club's speed camp on the mountain, so she took her runs while the FSC skiers were on lunch break. The younger athletes, though, were more interested in watching an Olympian train than in devouring their PB&J's.
"I think it's pretty cool to watch someone who came from Holderness and made the Olympic team," said FSC racer Tristan Hamilton, 12, of Greenland. "I think every ski racer wants to be a pro racer, but you have to really work hard like (Ford) did."
Ford's advice to aspiring Olympians such as Hamilton was simple.
"Anything is possible that you put your mind to and work hard at, whether in ski racing or in life," she said. "It's a lot of hard work and perseverance. Just keep smiling and have fun. We're out there because we love skiing".