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Olympian Nick Fairall – The Boy Who Wanted to Fly

Yesterday I caught up with Superman:

photo credit: All Right Sports 2000, courtesy of Nick Fairall

photo credit: All Right Sports 2000, courtesy of Nick Fairall

Meet Nick Fairall, 2014 Olympian.

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photo credit: All Right Sports 2000, courtesy of Nick Fairall

On December 29th, 2013, Nick Fairall won first place at the at the ski jumping olympic trials in Park City, Utah.

Nick is headed to Sochi, representing the United States as one of four ski jumpers on the Olympic Ski Jumping Team. Yea!

As it so happens, Nick lives in our little New Hampshire town.

You can imagine the great excitement. The cow tippin’, the chicken chasin’, the riots at our local piggly wiggly.

Actually, this little town knows a thing or two about olympic development. Nick follows in the footsteps of three other Andover Outing Club kids: Jed Hinkley (two-time olympian), Carl Van Loan (two-time olympican), and Kris Freeman (three-time olympian).

From a young age, all of these superior athletes were coached by Tim Norris who started the Andover Outing Club in 1976. Coach Tim just so happens to live up the hill from me, past the show donkeys and water buffalo. There’s a story there.

I got in touch with Nick when he was flying half-way across the world, and I thank him very much for taking the time to sit down with me. I love talking to people about habits, goals, and perseverance. Nick has some great things to share.

Here’s Nick, talking about chasing dreams, hard work, and of course – flying.

Hi Nick! “Hi.”

How old are you now? “24.

Isn’t it cool that I get to interview you? YES!

How long have you been chasing this dream?  “I started jumping at age 6, at the Andover Outing Club at Blackwater. I began thinking competitively at about age 14, sophomore year at Proctor Academy.”

What was high school like? “I was traveling all over the world. 2005 was my first junior world championships. Weekends were jumping at Lake Placid or Lebanon.” By high school, Nick had already out-jumped the high school team, but helped coach the other high school athletes.

Tell me about your coaches? “Tim Norris was my coach, now a good friend and mentor. Even now I’d still say he was my coach.”

How did you qualify for the Olympics? “This winter I was jumping well so I had already set myself in a good position (from the World Cup and Continental Cup), but I still had to compete at the Olympic trials. On December 29th I was able to win that competition and guaranteed a spot on the team.”

Let’s talk about setbacks and failures. What happened in 2010? “In 2009 I was skiing well, competing well. I was in 1st position to make the 2010 Olympic Team and then I was the first person out.”

What happened? “I think I let influences, forces, that I had no control over, bother me more than I ever should have…I was flooding myself with too many negative thoughts and emotions that really pulled me down.

What happened next? I was depressed, feeling very very crummy, felt like I had let myself down, my family, everyone and anyone.

As luck would have it, in the spring of 2010, Nick went to the dentist.

Nick’s dentist was Colonel Lisa McManus, founder of Military Arnis at Norwich University and a leadership and personal development coach. “She gave me more mental strength internally. I learned that I can’t let people bring me down without my permission. There’s lots of visualization, keeping things in perspective, and having a positive attitude. But you know, there’s always going to be setbacks that come along. I try not to make small setbacks big problems.”

“Assuming that everything happens for a reason, I learned to use setbacks as set-ups for success.”

The power of family

In 2008, Nick lost his mother (a most wonderful woman). “My mom taught me so much. She was always backing me and pushing me. Even now I feel like she’s always with me. I’m at peace with that.  My family (dad and two sisters) has always been so supportive. When I won the spot for the Olympic team at Park City I think they were more excited than I was.”

Financially, it’s very difficult for athletes to compete nationally and internationally without sponsors. Most have to rely on family help. The Wall Street Journal covered national champion Kris Freeman’s troubles with health insurance, here and here.

“Never have your memories be greater than your dreams”

How do you set goals? It’s best to break down your goals…have your ultimate goal, then smaller sub levels, then daily goals like, ‘get out of bed and go to the gym.’ The key is to set goals that excite you and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Friends and family mean well but sometimes they can be the most deterring. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Ford – ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.'”

“Knowing you’re working towards something already sets you up for success.”

Let’s talk about training: “It’s frustrating for personal trainers because you want to be really strong, but really light. We do a lot of plyometrics, technique, lots of explosive reps, but low weights, low reps. Fat don’t fly. Anorexia was a big problem in the sport (for men) until the 2000 Body Mass Index Rule (21 with equipment). We have strong cores, strong balance.”

Do you have to be careful with your diet? Yes. Basically, if it’s healthy you can eat it. We aren’t a sport like cross-country where diet is a huge portion of training and determines whether or not you can go 95% at 10 kilometers versus 90% or 85%. Ours is only a seven second sport. I try to keep things in moderation and have the carbs, proteins, and fats at a reasonable portion size.

I’ve heard you say ski jumping is the closest thing to flying: “Yeah, it’s just excellent. I’m not a dare devil or anything. Sky diving wasn’t that exciting for me.”

Longest jump? “The longest jump is 2 1/2 football fields at 246 meters. My longest jump was 208 meters last spring, that was awesome, in Slovania.”

Do people get hurt? “Yeah, but not often, especially at higher levels. It’s not like soccer or basketball…there’s much less injury absolutely.”

Does anyone try to cheat? “All the time. Like any sport, you’re always trying to find those grey areas. How can suits be manipulated? You find little advantages where you can.”

Banned substances? “Not really a problem. Before the diuretic rule, there was a big problem with weight, but drugs aren’t really big in our sport.”

When will we know the three other members of the USA Ski Jumping Team? “This weekend, hopefully.”

Any hopefuls? “Chris Lamb! (another Andover, NH boy!) He’s a great athlete, a great person with tons of skill. I’m hoping – expecting it! There’s also Nick Alexander from New Hampshire. It would be so cool to have three members of the team all from New Hampshire.” (indeed!)

When will you be done jumping? “It’s crossed my mind (to retire) but I haven’t taken it seriously. It’s difficult because you have to find your own sponsors and donors.” Donate HERE.

Nick, what’s the competition in Sochi look like? “Oh, it’s big. Austria, Norway, Japan. We’re definitely the underdogs.”

We like underdogs, don’t we?

The difference between a big shot and a little shot is that the big shot was a little shot that kept on shooting.” -Zig Ziglar

Nick, I love that you always come back home and help out – like coaching our little middle school team: “I noticed that the more I help people, the more I influence, the more I grow.” Here, Nick speaks at Proctor Academy, his alma mater.

What will you do when you’re done jumping? “Aviation of some sort. Commercial or military, I don’t know. I’ve just always loved flying.”

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photo credit: All Right Sports 2000, courtesy of Nick Fairall

Thank you, Nick! We are so proud of you and can’t wait to watch you fly in Sochi! NBC Olympic schedule HERE.

post edit: Kris Freeman, age 33, was officially nominated for his FOURTH olympics today, Jan 22, 2014 – wahoo! Read this incredible story from Sports Illustrated about Kris, racing and dealing with diabetes. Inspirational.

Sadly, Andover’s Chris Lamb narrowly missed making the ski jumping team, but NH’s Nick Alexander will represent the U.S. in Sochi – congrats!

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