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Jim Kenyon: Vershire Ski Jumper Looks to Land in 2018 Olympics


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Strapping on a pair of fiberglass skis, hurtling down an icy in-run at 55 mph and soaring the length of a football field before touching down on frozen ground comes second nature to Tara Geraghty-Moats.

So what is the biggest challenge facing one of America’s top Olympic hopefuls in women’s ski jumping?

“Fundraising,” Geraghty-Moats replied without hesitating.

In U.S. women’s ski jumping, having the talent and drive to compete with the best in the world isn’t enough. Unlike many of its European counterparts, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association doesn’t put a lot of money into its women’s jumping program. (Or men’s program, for that matter.)

That leaves Geraghty-Moats, of Vershire, responsible for coming up with the bulk of the $30,000 it takes to cover a season on the World Cup tour that includes more than a dozen events in Europe, Japan and Korea.

Which explains the T-shirts for sale at Crossroad Farm’s vegetable and fruit stand in Post Mills.

For 20 years, Crossroad owners, Janet and Tim Taylor, have had T-shirts made each summer with a different theme to promote their business. (“Melon Madness” ranks among Tim’s favorites.)

This year, Crossroad T-shirts have a “Go Tara” theme complete with ski-jumping vegetables. All of the money raised from T-shirt sales will help Geraghty-Moats, 23, with her skiing expenses. When she’s not training with the U.S. team this summer, she works at the farm.

“She’s been coming here since she was 4 years old,” Janet Taylor said. “Helping her seemed like the right thing to do.”

At $15 a pop, Crossroad Farm has to sell a lot of T-shirts to keep Geraghty-Moats’ Olympic dream afloat. Still, every little bit helps.

“I really respect her dedication to one thing, and the kind of excellence that she’s trying to achieve,” Tim Taylor said.

Along with a local-girl-makes-good story, Geraghty-Moats’ career has become a testament to perseverance. She began ski jumping at Storrs Hill in Lebanon when she was 9 years old. At 15, she was named to the U.S. Development Team.

But a year later, in 2009, she suffered a devastating knee injury and broken tibia during a training jump. Doctors told her that her ski jumping career was likely over.

So she switched to biathlon and cross-country skiing, before returning two years ago to jumping, which became an Olympic sport for women only in 2014.

Geraghty-Moats finished the last World Cup season ranked No. 2 on the U.S. team and No. 28 in the world. It puts her on track to make the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea, but it’s far from a guarantee (the top 35 qualify).

To compete in the full 2016-17 World Cup season, Geraghty-Moats still needs to raise roughly $10,000. Along with picking up a few sponsors, she uses Facebook and crowdfunding to generate interest and support.

“She’s very good with social media,” said Jeff Hastings, of Hanover, a former Olympian who continues to mentor Geraghty-Moats and other young jumpers. “She uses (Facebook and Instagram) to give her followers a front row seat to what’s going on in a really cool sport at a high international level.”

Hastings, whose fourth-place finish at the 1984 Winter Games remains the best-ever finish by a U.S. jumper in the Oympics, said Geraghty-Moats’ career is on a “great arc” that could launch her into the top 10 worldwide.

“She has a real passion for the sport, which you need,” Hastings said. “The only reason she’s doing it is because she loves it.”

It’s also taught her to be frugal. When arranging lodging on the road, Geraghty-Moats and her teammates look for places with kitchens to avoid the expense of restaurants. They do their laundry in the kitchen sink. (Somehow, I don’t see that happening with the U.S. women’s and men’s basketball teams that are living aboard a luxury cruise ship while in Rio this month.)

To cut down on airline baggage fees, Geraghty-Moats and a teammate share a suitcase. “It’s not a sacrifice, it’s just another way of operating,” she said. “I’ve been doing this long enough now that it feels like I should have a bachelor’s degree in fundraising and budgeting.”

Laura Sankey, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, told me over the phone from her home in Utah that since “we don’t have a lot of resources,” Geraghty-Moats and her teammates must connect with supporters and sponsors in ways that other Olympic-caliber athletes wouldn’t think of.

An example: “They do hand-written thank-you notes,” said Sankey, a 1986 Dartmouth graduate.

After returning from training in Slovenia last month, Geraghty-Moats went back to picking vegetables at Crossroad Farm.

Along with the 20 or so other teens and young adults that the Taylors hire in the summer, Geraghty-Moats starts work at 6 a.m. She often rides her bike from her mother’s house in Vershire or takes a 3-mile run to “wake up” before going to work.

On the morning I stopped by, she’d been in the fields for four hours, already having helped cut 80 pounds of lettuce and 60 pounds of spinach.

“It’s hard, physical work,” she said, “which is why I like it.”

Sort of like ski jumping. And as long as she continues to make progress, Geraghty-Moats can’t see herself doing anything else. “It’s an amazing opportunity to travel the world and do what I love,” she said.

If not for skiing, “I don’t know if I would have been on a plane more than one or two times in my life,” she said.

And Crossroad Farm’s “Go Tara” T-shirts would never have sprouted.

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Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.