Ski season is upon us!
21-year-old local racing star Jacqueline Wiles has earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Wiles, a 2010 graduate of Canby High School, grew up racing on Mount Hood and chasing her older brother Steele all over the mountain. She started skiing at two, racing at five, and stood out early for her ability, her confidence and her positive attitude.
Oregon Episcopal School ski racing coach Aaron Ruddick remembers Jackie at the age of six saying she was going to be on the Olympic team. "She didn't say 'I want to go to the Olympics,'" he said. "She said, 'I'm going to the Olympics.'"
Wiles raced for the Cooper Spur Race Team as a Mitey Mite and switched to Multnomah Athletic Club as a junior racer, competing in regional races through the Pacific Northwest Ski Association. She also raced in high school through the Oregon Interscholastic Racing Association.
At the age of 13 joined the White Pass Ski Club famous for developing great Pacific Northwest racers such as Phil and Steve Mahre. Matt Morrell, one of her coaches at White Pass, says it was Jackie's attitude that stood out from the beginning: "She just had the attitude that whatever it takes to get down the hill the fastest, she was going to do it."
White Pass has something none of the resorts on Mount Hood have, a steep, challenging run specifically reserved for high-level speed training. Wiles had never raced downhill or Super G before, but she learned quickly. Before long she was traveling to FIS races with coach Kevin McDevitt (former head coach of the Meadows Race Team), and working her way up to the level of the U.S. Ski Team.
She trained every summer on Mount Hood, and later in Chile, and she also mixed motorcycle riding and wakeboarding into her regimen, along with a serious weight lifting program with Tigard-based trainer Troy Harvey.
The training paid off a little over a year ago, when Wiles won her first U.S. Alpine Championship downhill race in Colorado. "That was the turning point," says her uncle, Jim Wiles.
Jackie followed up that victory with another national championship in 2013. Her overall results were so good that she was selected to compete on the U.S. World Cup squad. Last week she finished an impressive 15th in a downhill race in Italy to earn her first World Cup points.
Wiles has distinguished herself in top-level competition by attacking courses that most first-timers would consider intimidating, and by beating racers with far more experience. Her strong finish in Italy combined with lingering injuries to skiing stars Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis to earn her a shot at the Olympics. She was named to the Olympic team on Sunday.
Jackie Wiles will be the second-youngest member of the U.S. Ski Racing Team to compete in Sochi, after 18-year-old slalom phenom Mikaela Shiffrin.
Her run to the Olympics is partially financed by a kickstarter campaign that she put together through Rally Me, in which she described herself as a tomboy with a need for speed.
"I want to ski even better, go further and continue to push the limits and my potential," Wiles wrote in her kickstarter.
Her goal was to raise $12,500 in 60 days, and she exceeded that, raising $13,431.
Wiles will compete in downhill and super-G in Sochi, and if her trajectory continues, she could post some serious results there, inspiring the hundreds of kids, juniors, high schoolers and adults who train and race on Mount Hood.
Her former coach Morrell says he will drop whatever he is doing to watch her race on TV. "We are so proud of her, it's unbelievable," he says.
"We are all just ecstatic about this news," says her uncle and biggest fan, Jim Wiles. "We are so proud of her. She has been fighting and scrapping all along to get this, and she got it."
Wiles herself responded to the news with humility. Here is the full text of what she posted on Facebook Monday:
"Words can't even describe how I feel right now. To think a year ago I wasn't even on the US Ski Team, to now be going to the Olympics is unreal! I have so many people to thank who have helped me along this journey! To all the coaches, trainers and friends who supported me throughout the ups and downs. Most importantly my family for their unconditional love. I could not have done it without all of you. This sure validates all those post graduate years I took off to pursue this dream I've had since I was little. It proves to me that if you truly work hard and believe in yourself anything is possible. Thanks to everyone who helped contribute to funding my season. I appreciate all the love and support. It means the world to me and it will be an honor representing our country!!!! USA!!!!"
To read the story about the family and community support that enabled Jackie Wiles to reach her full Olympic potential, click here.