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Athletes’ Parents Make Long Trek to Sochi

  • Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney, right, hugs her mother, Jill Kearney, during a homecoming ceremony under the Norwich bandstand on Feb. 26, 2010. Jill Kearney is the recreation director for the town of Norwich. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney, right, hugs her mother, Jill Kearney, during a homecoming ceremony under the Norwich bandstand on Feb. 26, 2010. Jill Kearney is the recreation director for the town of Norwich. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Jamie Anderson stands on the podium after winning the women's slopestyle snowboarding final at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Breckenridge, Colo. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

    Jamie Anderson stands on the podium after winning the women's slopestyle snowboarding final at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Breckenridge, Colo. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Olympian Hannah Kearney, left, leaves a send-off from the Marion Cross School, in Norwich, Vt., with her mother, Jill Kearney, before departing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Jan. 20, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Olympian Hannah Kearney, left, leaves a send-off from the Marion Cross School, in Norwich, Vt., with her mother, Jill Kearney, before departing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Jan. 20, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney, right, hugs her mother, Jill Kearney, during a homecoming ceremony under the Norwich bandstand on Feb. 26, 2010. Jill Kearney is the recreation director for the town of Norwich. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Jamie Anderson stands on the podium after winning the women's slopestyle snowboarding final at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Breckenridge, Colo. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
  • Olympian Hannah Kearney, left, leaves a send-off from the Marion Cross School, in Norwich, Vt., with her mother, Jill Kearney, before departing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Jan. 20, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

There’s no direct flight from the Upper Valley to Sochi, Russia, although Jill Kearney Niles set up the next-best alternative.

Niles, the mother of Winter Olympics women’s moguls skier and Norwich native Hannah Kearney, flew to Russia on Feb. 3 out of Boston’s Logan Airport, landing in Frankfurt, Germany. After a scheduled eight-hour layover, she was on her way to Sochi. She’ll traverse a similar route when she returns home next week, detouring to the French city of Briancon to see her son, Denny, play ice hockey.

Niles isn’t the only local parent undertaking an Olympic adventure. Hartland resident Lauren Anderson is in Sochi with eight other family members to see her daughter, Jamie, compete in slopestyle snowboarding and Lebanon couple Jim and Deb Alexander are there to see their son, Nick, ski jump.

Making and paying for the arrangements wasn’t cheap, and the issue of security looms in the background.

“It’s been a challenge; so much paperwork,” said Niles, who attended her daughter’s previous Olympic competitions in Turin, Italy, in 2006 and in Vancouver four years ago.

“It really could not be more complicated, but I appreciate the security issue,” said Niles. “That part will make it all worth it, to have everybody carefully checked out.”

Jim Alexander, a former Lebanon police chief now working in emergency management, said he and his wife will be vigilant, but that he’s not overly concerned.

“The Russians have the ability to clamp down in a way lots of places can’t,” he said. “There are also things we can do to be careful, and we will. You avoid trains at peak hours and you sit near the exit. We were notified by the (U.S.) ski team not to wear U.S. gear around.”

Hannah Kearney said last month that she wouldn’t stress about her own security, although she admitted her mother and brother’s safety causes her to think twice.

“I hope there are more good stories to be told than actual threats,” Kearney said. “I would worry more about my family being outside; I think, in the athlete village, we will be incredibly safe. … I don’t think this is going to be the riskiest situation we’ve ever been in.”

Lauren Anderson plans to “go with the flow,” an approach she said has gotten her through raising eight children and a divorce. She moved to Hartland from Lake Tahoe, Calif., last year to start a new life.

“If something’s supposed to happen, it will happen,” Anderson said. “We all claim responsibility for our own choices in a volatile situation. I don’t have any fear about it, not that I’m not sure nothing’s going to happen.

“But fear just slows you down and you have to push through it.”

Before ever leaving American soil, some athletes’ parents had to figure out how to pay for the trip. Jim Alexander said he and his wife “saved faithfully” for four years in the hope Nick would reach his second consecutive Olympics. Still, a hard choice had to be made in leaving their 24-year-old daughter, Jackie, behind in the Upper Valley.

“We just couldn’t swing it, and she couldn’t afford to pay for it herself,” said Jim Alexander, who booked hotel rooms near Sochi after turning down the more-expensive option to stay in the mountains near the jumping site.

“Rooms in the mountains were $750 to $1,000 per night,” he added.

The Alexanders aren’t sure if their son’s qualifying schedule will allow him to march in the opening ceremonies, but if he does, they’ll be watching on television, despite being in town. Tickets for the event were running at $1,700 each, Jim Alexander said.

“It’s sickening, the idea of your kid walking in the opening ceremonies and you’re stuck in a hotel four kilometers away,” he said. “But we just can’t afford it.”

Lauren Anderson, who works on a Hartland alpaca farm, said Jamie Anderson paid all of her family members’ travel and lodging costs. The 23-year-old Olympian has earned sponsorships and endorsement money that helps allow such generosity, her mother said.

“She designs clothes for Billabong and she’s pretty business-oriented, so she’s done well for herself,” said Lauren Anderson, who drives a car her daughter won at a 2012 competition. “I wasn’t going to be able to afford the trip otherwise.”

Lauren Anderson said her airline tickets cost about $1,500. She will be sleeping in a $300-per-night cabin on board an ocean liner docked in the Sochi area, and said she had to pay a similar amount to get a Russian visa.

The paperwork hurdles didn’t end there. Olympic fans not only need tickets to an event, but also a spectator pass and a letter of invitation from the site of their lodgings. To procure these documents, the Internet must be consulted at length, official seals must be garnered and Jim Alexander, who spent 25 years in law enforcement, said he had to provide his complete firearms ownership history.

“Then you have to worry if your flight to Moscow gets delayed and the entry date on your visa won’t be correct,” he said. “We’ve been told if that happens you could be delayed up to 24 hours while it’s reissued.”

It’s assumed, however, that in the end the hassles and costs will be worth every minute and every dime.

After all, how often do your child go to the Olympics?

“The whole thing is outrageously expensive ... but priceless,” Lauren Anderson said.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3306. Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.