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Taking a Flying Leap: Nichols, Cudhea Find Success, Motivation at Jr. Nationals

  • Left: Lyme’s Evan Nichols competes in the cross country ski portion of the U-16 Nordic combined, with the 13-year-old won on March 2.

  • Evan Nichols, 13, of Lyme, takes to the air during a ski jump attempt during the Junior Nationals ski jumping and Nordic combined competition in Fox Grove Springs, Ill., earlier this month. Nichols won the boys U16 national championship in Nordic combined.

  • Aiden Cudhea, sophomore soccer

  • Above: Thetford’s Aidan Cudhea goes airborne during the team jumping competition at the Junior National Championships for ski jumping and Nordic combined in Fox River Grove, Ill., on March 3. Cudhea finished fifth in the boys U-16 age group.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Aiden Cudhea and Evan Nichols spend a lot of time together. If they’re not training in Lake Placid, N.Y., the pair can usually be found traveling the country for skiing competitions. Traveling takes its toll sometimes, but neither one can imagine doing anything else.

Their latest competition was the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s 2017 Junior National Championship at the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, Ill., two weeks ago. Nichols, a 13-year-old at the Lyme School, and Cudhea, a sophomore at Thetford Academy, were selected to represent the East Division in a nationwide field of athletes. Nichols took first in U-16 individual Nordic combined, edging Concord’s Henry Johnstone by 30 seconds. Cudhea took fifth in U-16 special jumping. The East took third overall.

The results were vast improvements for the two Upper Valley skiers, who had made their Junior National debuts in 2016, validating all the hard work they’ve done.

“I was super happy, pumped up. My teammates came running over to me when I finished (my cross country race),” said Nichols, who trains for both ski jumping and Nordic skiing. “It means a lot. … Winning Junior Nationals, it’s a whole other level. You’re competing against the best in the country. It makes it all worth it.”

Junior National events were stretched over several days and used Gunderson start rules — where your ski jump distance determines your cross country starting time — for multi-event athletes like Nichols. The Lyme student finished sixth in ski jumping, meaning he would start the nordic race 10 seconds behind the Rocky Mountain Division’s Niklas Malacinski.

“I decided that I had to do all I could to catch up at the start and pace myself from there,” Nichols said.

Nichols edged Malacinski by 1 minute, 9 seconds, finishing the five kilometer course in 13:40.

Cudhea, who specializes in ski jumping, had goals of finishing in the top five. Warm weather at Norge forced officials to use plastic ramps and landing areas instead of traditional snow on their ski jump. Perfect, Cudhea thought.

“I actually prefer plastic,” he said. “It’s more consistent. You don’t have to worry about sticky snow or fast ice.”

Cudhea finished his two attempts with 187.2 points, jumping 63.5 and 65 meters. He was about 10 meters behind the leader, Andrew Urlaub from the Central Division.

“It’s awesome to know that I can do it, know that I can put the work in and achieve things,” he said. “I’m really happy with my result.”

Nichols took up skiing after his sister, Casey, introduced him. Cudhea, a former basketball player, remembers being taken to Lake Placid five years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Both have found a similar passion for one of the nation’s smallest sports.

“The thrill of getting in the air, going 60 miles an hour off a jump, it’s exciting,” Nichols said.

Added Cudhea: “It’s not so much that I liked it. I hate walking up stairs; I hate being out in the cold. But it’s something about the rush, going down that ramp, going into a slingshot into the air. It’s an amazing rush, like nothing else.”

And, perhaps not surprisingly, both athletes have Olympic aspirations. Cudhea will move up to the more competitive U-20 age group next year; Nichols should go into next year’s Junior Nationals as an early individual favorite.

“As a parent, when you’re watching it, it’s gratifying,” said Scott Nichols, Evan’s father, who made the trip to Norge to watch his son compete. “He’s worked very hard. We’ve driven him all over the Northeast, and he’s flown all over the country, to jump. His development has been fun to watch. It’s a unique sport.”

Scott Nichols has also been involved in talks to rebuild and redevelop the historic Nansen Ski Jump in Milan, N.H., after Sarah Hendrickson completed her comeback from a devastating knee injury on the jump earlier this year. A rejuvenated jump, Nichols said, would help athletes like Evan and Aiden develop at a much earlier age and cut down on the travel costs for families.

Until then, Nichols and Cudhea will continue to travel. Training begins once again this summer, with new goals in mind. This time, however, the skiers now have a foundation of success on which to stand.

“I’m thinking the top 10 (at Junior Nationals),” Cudhea said. “I think that’s reasonable. I think that’s achievable.”

“I definitely want to take it to high school,” Nichols said. “To make it to the Olympics, that’s the ultimate goal. It would be like a dream.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.