Irie vibes on the slopes

Skier Jasmine Campbell ’15 grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where most people go to get away from the snow. She did just the opposite, and represented the islands in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

By Edward Weinman

Jasmine Campbell
Jasmine Campbell ’15 wears a big smile after competing in the Women’s Slalom. Photo courtesy of VInow.com

As a kid in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Olympic skier Jasmine Campbell ’15 snorkeled at Cinnamon Bay and Hawksnest Beach on a nearly daily basis. When she tired of swimming with the fish, she played “full contact whiffle-ball” with her brothers and buried herself in the sand.

Campbell and her brothers would also make off with their father’s work machetes and play “bush combat.”

“That was one of our less thoughtful, more harrowing ideas,” Campbell said, recalling her rambunctious childhood on St. John, one of the most pristine islands in the Caribbean.

In spite of her sun-drenched childhood, the fact that she represents the U.S. Virgin Islands at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is no accident.

Her father was an Olympic skier, competing in the 1992 Olympics in France for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Campbell said that her mother was also an athlete, an avid runner who jogged all over the island.

“My mom was constantly doing some physical activity to the point that whenever the local tour bus drivers saw her, they would shout out on their megaphones, ‘An dere’s de crazy white woman who run all ovah de islan’. Lessee if we beat her back to Cruz Bay today.’”

Campbell’s mother was also a skier. And the Whitman student recently discovered that her mother skied in a World Cup event while pregnant with her.

“Maybe some of my passion for skiing was instilled in me in utero,” she said.

There is no denying Campbell’s passion for the sport, so much so that she took a year off from Whitman to train for her Olympic dream.

“I decided to take a gap year to fulfill the racing and training requirements any athlete hoping to perform at an elite level must achieve,” she said.

Training to race slalom and giant slalom in the Olympics obviously means time on the hill. Campbell skis five to six days a week barring races. She generally has two daily ski sessions. In addition, she spends long hours in the gym.

Campbell said she and her brothers frequently roughhoused as kids, which is how they came to play full contact whiffle-ball. If her brothers show up while she’s training, she forgoes the gym to compete with them in a sport they nicknamed “combat hockey.”

“My brothers insist combat hockey is vital for cross-training benefits.”

A typical Whitman student, Campbell looks for new ways to solve old problems, which means searching for new training methods – other than combat hockey or the perilous bush combat.

“Ski racing can be as much of a mental battle as it is a physical challenge, so I delved into the world of sports psychology,” she said.

“Taking advantage of the volumes of books available, I’ve incorporated mental techniques into both my training process and on-hill performance. This has added an exciting dimension to my Olympic training.”

In one sense, Campbell follows in her father’s footsteps. And she’s stoked that her father will travel to Sochi for her races.

“It looks like my father will be able to attend Sochi as my coach, and I’m very excited. My dad has been supportive of what I’m doing, and this experience has brought us closer together.”

While Campbell and her father both chased their Olympic dreams, Campbell has carved a much different path to the Olympics than her father.

“I’m not sure I’d say that I followed in his footsteps. My dad was a father of three and lived full time in the Virgin Islands. I’m a college student, and while I was born, and lived, in the Virgin Islands (she moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, when she was 10), I have more access to snow and various ski programs than he did.”

It’s important to remember that Campbell is still a student, not a racer funded by million-dollar endorsements or by the financial power of the U.S. Olympic team. She received $15,000 from the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as support from the U.S. Virgin Islands Ski Federation and the Sun Valley Ski Education Federation. However, she’s reached Sochi by hook and by crook.

“Starting out on this journey, I was trying to do it all myself, taking on roles of competitor, trainer, coach, planner and financier. Sometimes, I’ve been overwhelmed trying to juggle the organizational and financial responsibilities on top of the training and racing, but I realize how lucky I am and how much support I get from surprising sources,” Campbell said.

Campbell is not a medal favorite. She candidly admits that she wouldn’t make the U.S. ski team. The Olympics, though, are about more than gold medals.

“The Olympics are about bringing the world together in a community of sport and human excellence. It’s a time to transcend differences and divisiveness. I will consider my time at the Olympics a success by doing my own personal best, while connecting with this very special community of athletes,” Campbell said.