Ski season is upon us!
David Wiles suspected his daughter Jacqueline had serious athletic talent from the age of two, and by the time she was six he had proof.
The first time she played competitive soccer at the age of six, Jackie was the youngest kid on the team and the only girl, and she was the fastest. "She had speed, she had leg strength and she saw the angles," he recalls.
15 years later, Jacqueline Wiles is on the verge of racing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and her father David, a Portland lawyer, is flying to Russia to cheer her on with pride. He says he always believed in his daughter's potential, but even he didn't think she would make the U.S. Olympic team for 2014 at the age of 21.
"She's still developing," he says. "I was thinking 2018 would be her year. But she's skiing really well and she made it."
David Wiles and Jackie's mom Jennifer James (they are now divorced) got their daughter into skiing and racing young. David emphasizes that while alpine racing is an individual sport, his daughter never would have made it to Sochi without an incredibly dedicated team of coaches, trainers and techs helping her to improve, and family and friends keeping her spirits high through challenging times.
"There's a lot of people who helped her technically and mentally, and who stuck with her," he says.
The support started when Jackie Wiles was just another snowplow bomber riding the Skibowl rope tow with puffy snow pants, and it continued as she worked her way through four ski programs on Mount Hood, speed training at White Pass, the U.S. Ski Team's Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, the World Cup tour, and finally to Sochi, where she will compete in downhill and Super G against the best racers in the world.
Jackie started out chasing her older brother Steele around the rope tow area at Ski Bowl. As you can see from the photos below, she had the classic fearless-kid style going on, pizza-slice snowplow, weight back, pink mittens:
That's Jackie and Steele at Skibowl (photo courtesy David Wiles). The photo below (also from her dad) shows Jackie competing in a Mitey Mites race at age 5 or so:
Jackie started racing with coach Aaron Humphrey (now a World Cup judge) as a Powderhound at Timberline. After a few years in that program she switched over to the Meadows Race Team. From there she followed coach Jessie Scroggins to the Cooper Spur Race Team and later to the Multnomah Athletic Club team.
Her dad got her into summer speed camps on Mount Hood with coach Rick Reid, and then in 2007 he moved her to White Pass to join the program that Reid runs there.
White Pass has 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.
Here she is at U.S. Nationals in Lake Placid in 2010 (photo courtesy David Wiles):
But even with all her successes on the slopes, two years ago Jackie was in a tough place. Most of her racing friends had moved on to college, she didn't get invited to the US Ski Team tryout camp, and she was traveling all over to race as an independent, sometimes staying up past midnight the night before races to wax and sharpen her own skis. At one point she thought about quitting. "I told her to give it another year or two," David says. "This is your chance. You can afford to chase your dream now, before you have mortgage and a family."
In December 2011 David and Jackie traveled together to a Super G race as independents, and Jeff Pickering and Trevor Wagner of the U.S. Ski Team liked what they saw. They spoke to David Wiles about boosting her to the next level, and a short time later, Jackie was getting exactly the sort of opportunities she needed. She trained with Pickering and Wagner and worked closely with Western Region Alpine Coach Karin Harjo, and eventually she earned an invitation to train at the USSA Center of Excellence in Utah.
In 2012 Jackie Wiles won her first U.S. Alpine Championship downhill race in Colorado, and she followed up that victory with another national championship in 2013. She was selected to compete on the U.S. World Cup squad in 2013.
Her results improved steadily as she competed at the highest level of racing, and in January Wiles finished an impressive 15th in a downhill race in Italy to earn her first World Cup points. That strong finish and injuries to Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis earned her a spot on the Olympic team.
David Wiles expects his trip to Sochi will cost the equivalent of a year's tuition at a good college. But of course he is thrilled to go. He has tickets to watch Shaun White in the halfpipe, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety in the Super Combined, and his daughter in the Super G and the downhill.
"Anything can happen," he says. "She is skiing really well, and she has a lot of confidence. Remember, the downhill is just one run. If you hit it right, you never know."