I’m waiting at the top of the hill in Planica, Slovenia. It’s going to be my turn soon.
The Norwegian jumper Maren Lundby goes before me. She’s one of my childhood heroes. I hear a wave of sound rolling up the hill. The crowd is going crazy. The roar signals one of two things: either a huge jump or a hometown athlete. Maren is not Slovenian, so I’m thinking: ‘’Oh, she must have had a really long jump’’.
There's often a long wait between the last few jumps, especially in such a big event. It builds pressure for the athletes and the fans. It's just more exciting.
Before I jump, I go to my special place. I call it my bubble. It’s like I have a shield surrounding me. I put on my headphones and suddenly there's nothing in front of me. I don't see the other athletes. I don't care how far they've gone. I don't hear what the announcers say. It's just me.
My turn comes. I’m the last one to go. I’m thinking : ‘’Why not me? Why can't I win? You're the only thing stopping you. You are your only limitation.”
I can feel my vision narrow suddenly. I’m ready. I get on the bar and I go. I come over the knoll, the highest point of the hill. And I’m flying.
People often ask me what I am thinking while I’m in the air. I’m not thinking. I’m feeling. I'm feeling the wind on my body. I'm feeling the pressure under my skis. I’m feeling the lift that I'm generating. But I'm not thinking at all. Because when I start thinking, I overthink.
I am so high in the air. I am carrying so much speed. I sustain it until I land.
Right away, I just know.
I pump my fists, happy crying even before I stop moving. My teammate Abigail Strate comes to pick me up and hugs me, while my jump is replaying on the screen.
I can feel my heart thumping. What if I celebrated too early? What if I didn't beat Lundby?
In competition, the displays have a little bar to announce the results. The bar fills up and it turns yellow when you take over first place. So I'm waiting and waiting for the bar to fill up. I don't have glasses on, so I can't see the numbers.
Then I see the yellow flash.
I put my skis down and I run to the fence that separates me from the family area. I can see my mom, so tiny that she can’t step over the low fence. She has to run to fully get over it. I jump over to join her, ripping my suit along the way and almost taking out the entire set of TV cables.
My mom and I are hugging and crying. I’m so glad she’s here.
It takes a while to process. Only a few weeks after winning my first World Cup, and my first junior world title, I am world champion. At 19 years old. It's a little bit crazy.
I have always been an adrenaline junkie. I was the child jumping off bunk beds with pillowcases for parachutes, trying to fly by leaping out of trees, climbing the curtains in the living room. I was terrible to my parents. The fact that I'm now a high performance ski jumper makes a lot of sense.
I was always intrigued by extreme sports. If they told me ‘’You’re too small, you're too young, this won't fit you, a girl can’t do it’’, I liked them even more.
When I was six years old I watched the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and I fell in love with ski jumping. I can distinctly remember watching my now-teammate Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes jump. Even though there were no women ski jumping at the Olympics yet, I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I remember being in the school playground at around eight years old. I had a crush on a boy and I told him: ‘’I'm going to be an Olympic ski jumper’’. He laughed and said: ‘’Yeah, right. I don't believe you’’. I can see him and his friends making fun of me. I can still hear their laugh.
Here we are now, 11 years later.
It took years of begging my parents : ‘’Let me try it! I want to do it so bad! Let me ski jump!’’ Every part of me knew this was my sport. It can’t be easy for a parent to imagine their kid jumping at high speed several meters in the air. But I guess I was annoying enough, because my parents gave in.
My mom came to watch my very first jumps. She saw me picking up these huge skis (even for kids, jumping skis are bigger than a grown man's alpine skis) and said to herself: ‘’This is going to last a week. She won’t want to carry those skis.’’
Not for a second was she thinking that a few years later, when I was 14, I would move to Germany to pursue my passion.
In 2019, the ski jumping hill in Calgary closed. I had a choice to make. Move away to become a ski jumper or stay and study like other kids my age.
I ended up going to the National Sports School in Calgary, which enabled me to move to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, just outside of Munich. I lived with family friends on and off for two years. I'd go to Germany for three months and come back to Canada for two months.
I really struggled during that time. I had no friends and I didn’t fit in the social group of my team because all the kids my age went to sports schools there, and I couldn't because I didn't speak German. I felt alone.
It’s the love of the sport that saved me. I wanted to be a ski jumper, and I was willing to make any sacrifice to make it happen.
What few people know is that shortly before I became world champion, I was told I might never jump again.
In my first year with the national team, COVID-19 reduced the opportunities to compete. When I finally did, I wasn’t very lucky.
In February 2021, I crashed during a World Cup in Slovenia and tore my knee. I asked my doctor to let me continue for another season without having surgery. I didn’t want to miss the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
I got to go and we ended up winning a bronze medal in the team event. It was Canada’s first-ever Olympic medal in ski jumping. It’s still one of my greatest memories.
Even though I had to compete with knee pain, it was totally worth it to postpone my surgery until that April. Three months later, I had completely recovered.
I thought I was done with injuries but in July 2022, at one of my first jumping sessions after my surgery, I crashed and broke my foot.
It was only a small crash, at really low speed, but as I was falling, my foot hit the top of my boot, ruptured the ligament that holds the first and second metatarsal, and ripped a hole in my bone. I had never felt pain like this.
Things happened very quickly. It's still kind of blurry. My coach Janko Zwitter and I went to the doctor in Slovenia, where our national team trains year round. I was sitting in the office next to Janko who was translating because the doctor did not speak English. My coach turned to me and said ‘’You might never jump again. This might be the end of your career.’’ I bawled my eyes out.
It didn't feel real. At 18 years old, having just won an Olympic medal, those are not the words you want to hear. I was shocked. Next thing I know, I was on a flight back to Canada.
As difficult and painful as it was, something changed in me that day.
It felt like it happened overnight. A sudden shift in my motivation. It was no longer ‘’One day I'm going to be good.’’ Suddenly I felt ‘’I’m going to be good now. I'm here for today, not for tomorrow, not for next week or next month. It’s happening right now.” I had to stop taking time for granted.
I learned to accept things and see the positive. There were days I've come nearly dead last. I have smacked the ground super hard or crashed outright. I learned so much more on those days than on the days I won. Once I started seeing failures as learning opportunities, I really started to grow.
I was driven to be the best version of myself.
I went through months of rehab in Canada, seeing foot specialists and a physiotherapist. I smiled the whole time. My physio said ‘’I've never seen someone so happy to work out’’. I replied that I was going to be the first female athlete ever to win World Championships and World Juniors in the same season. She looked at my broken foot and said ‘’If you can walk, I'll believe you’’.
I did everything I could to get back on my feet. I followed the plan by the book. I ran on the zero gravity treadmill for an hour every single day. I had the firm intention to not let anything take away my dream.
By October, under supervision, I was finally able to do my first jumps.
Nobody thought I'd be jumping this year. I did a really good job showing them otherwise.
I was the only one with expectations. I knew I could win and become world champion. But it sounded so far-fetched, I was reluctant to say it out loud. I didn't want to be judged.
I gradually picked up my pace. When I got closer and closer to the podium, people started to think it was actually possible.
My comeback began at my very first event. After missing two months of the season, people thought I would be twentieth at best. I finished fourth, less than one point off the podium, which was my career best at the time.
A few days later in Japan, I won Canada’s first-ever medal in a Women's World Cup. It was an outburst of relief and happiness.
We all know what followed.
Our family saying is ‘’Try, try again’’. I had it tattooed on my arm in my grandma's handwriting, over the Olympic rings.
I remember skiing as a little kid, falling down and crying and wanting to go home. My dad would pick me up and look me in the eyes ‘’What's your name?’’ I’d cry ‘’Loutitt’’. ‘’And what do Loutitts do?’’ I’d say "Try, try again." And then he would always say ‘’Loutitts never quit’’.
Through the years since, I have had terrible sessions, sobbing into my goggles at the top of the hill. Crying so much that my goggles had salt caked inside them. I’d say it out loud ‘’Try, try again.’’ My jumps were always better after that. Today, my coach calls me a phoenix, rising from my own ashes. Success is built in those hard moments.
Resilience was passed down to me from my grandfather and my dad. Like a gift you can wrap up in a box and give to someone. My family is indigenous Gwich'in from Northwest Territories. Even if I didn’t grow up with the traditional values in Calgary, I feel this gift is my strongest connection to the community.
My grandpa was a residential school survivor. I didn't learn about it until after he had passed away, when I had just started ski jumping. I never got to have a conversation with him about it.
The struggles he faced as an indigenous person brought him strength. He learned how to put aside the horrific things that were done to him. He didn't let it define him.
He suffered and he worked hard to give my dad a better life, so my dad could give my brother and I a better life. I can’t say enough how grateful I am. They are the reason I am here living my dream.
I don't think the success I had this year would have come without that moment in the doctor’s office when I heard I might never ski jump again.
It made me realize I wanted more than just to love what I do. I wanted to make a positive change in my community and in my sport.
We all know ski jumping is not Canada’s most popular event. The success of our team in the past few years has given us more support. We had been stuck in a negative loop for so long. How could the national team grow when there was no one rising through the ranks to push us? But we have finally broken that cycle. We are trending positive. This is the right time to be getting kids into the sport.
I want to be an inspiration for them, especially for young girls and indigenous kids. I want to show them that it’s possible to achieve their dreams, whatever they are. I want them to be able to see success that looks like them.
That is one of the best parts about being a high performance athlete. You have the power to create positive change.
Top,large image : Alexandria Loutitt of Canada soars through the air during the women's ski jumping large hill trial round at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)