Jumping to a Conclusion: Lebanon’s Alexander Retires

  • Former Olympic ski jumper Nick Alexander, of Lebanon, N.H., diagnoses what is wrong with a hospital bed at DHMC's clinical engineering department on Aug. 18, 2016 in Lebanon. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Olympic ski jumper Nick Alexander, of Lebanon N.H., has retired, taking a job at DHMC's clinical engineering department repairing electronics. On Aug. 18, 2016 Alexander repairs a hospital bed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 19, 2016

Lebanon — Nick Alexander was preparing to depart Slovakia in late March, gazing out of an airport window when he realized that, by his own admission, his ski jumping career was likely over.

“I remember thinking, ‘This could be my last plane ride back from Europe,’ ” Alexander said. “I kind of knew right then and there that it was time to move on from the sport.”

Alexander, 27, was coming off of his latest disappointing outing in the FIS World Cup. The two-time Olympian had placed 54th in a ski flying event in Slovakia after a 47th (large hill) showing Germany, failing to qualify for the finals in Finland and placing 47th and 50th in a pair of events in Norway.

They weren’t the results Alexander, a ninth-year member of the U.S. ski jumping team, was seeking, and the cycle of frustration had gone on long enough for the Lebanon resident. He later informed U.S. coach Bine Norcic he wouldn’t be returning for the summer Grand Prix season and accepted a job at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where he’s been working in the clinical engineering department since May.

“There was some kind of mental block that was keeping me from jumping as well as I was capable,” Alexander said. “I would execute these great jumps at training, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t happening at competition. It happened so much that it was very frustrating, a huge distraction.”

After placing 35th in the normal hill and 48th in the large hill at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, Alexander went on to win a normal-hill FIS Cup event the following September and was 27th in the World Cup at Willingen, Germany — his best World Cup result in years — in February 2015.

Three weeks later, Alexander suffered a severe knee injury crashing during his final jump in a team competition at the World Championships in Sweden, tearing his ACL and both menisci while straining just about every other component of the joint. He didn’t spare the details on his Facebook page at the time, writing about how the injury was compounded because “a chunk of cartilage has broken off and taken with it a small piece of femur bone.”

After surgery and nine months of rehabilitation, Alexander returned to jump in the lower-tier Continental Cup and eventually returned to the World Cup. He trained last summer with the U.S. team in Austria, where he spent time working with a sports psychologist.

“Even after I wrecked my knee, I was able to return to the World Cup, which I was happy with,” Alexander said. “But confidence is a huge part of ski jumping, and I could never really get where I needed to be, outside of training. I just couldn’t get the consistency I needed. I tried to fix it, but continued to struggle.”

Alexander garnered a lifetime worth of memories and experience during his career, which allowed him to travel the world and exercise his passion.

Learning to ski jump at age 10 at Storrs Hill, Alexander went on to graduate from the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where his coach, David Fallmann, knew he had potential to excel in the sport.

Alexander proved him correct, earning a spot on the U.S. ski jumping team after finishing school and winning the normal-hill title at the 2009 U.S. National Championships at Lake Placid, N.Y.

After qualifying for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, he placed 40th in the large-hill and 41st in the normal hill while the U.S. was 11th in the team event.

It was the first of two Olympic appearances for Alexander, who was 35th in the normal hill and 48th in the large hill during the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. That came after another another national normal-hill title in 2013.

“The Olympics are obviously very unique and an incredible experience,” Alexander said. “I think Sochi was more memorable. Canada just kind of felt like going next door, but Russia had a very different feel. I stayed pretty low key in the Olympic village. I had a good time, but I probably could have done a little more.”

The U.S. ski jumping team is severely underfunded — it receives no money from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and sponsors are few and far between — meaning Alexander relied on the support of others to help him through his career. Every autumn, he embarked on fundraising campaigns, receiving much of his financial backing from contributors in the Upper Valley.

“There were really a lot of great people who believed in me that allowed me to do what I did,” said Alexander, whose father, Jim, retired three years ago as Lebanon’s chief of police. “They consistently made it possible for me to do what I did and I’ll always be very grateful for that.”

In DHMC’s clinical engineering department, Alexander diagnoses and fixes mechanical issues and performs preventative maintenance on the hospital’s wide range of electronic equipment, from sphygmomanometers — the instruments that measure blood pressure — to adjustable beds and infusion pumps.

“It’s been a cool job, because I’ve always liked electronic devices and it’s something I’m pretty good at,” Alexander said. “It started part-time, but I’ve been full-time since July. It’s challenging, but I’m definitely enjoying it.”

Alexander has also been interested in planes for a long time, ever since his parents took him to Lebanon Municipal Airport to watch military aircraft land when he was a kid. He’d been accepted to Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before declining in order to pursue ski jumping, and plans to train for his private pilot’s license beginning this fall.

“Embry-Riddle would have been for commercial aviation, but for now I’m just going to pursue flying as a hobby,” he said. “For now, I’m focused on clinical engineering.”

As for returning to ski jumping as an athlete or coach, it’s simply not a notion Alexander is entertaining at the moment.

“I’ve already been talked to by a few people about coaching, but right now I really need my space from the sport,” he said. “People are kind of surprised, but they understand.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.