Meet Kai McKinnon, a 13 year-old nordic combined athlete from Lake Placid, NY. Kai currently attends Lake Placid Middle School and has been a part of the NYSEF Winter Term program for one year.
Kai began cross country skiing at age 3 and started ski jumping at age 7. Her parents, Jodi and Neil, were the first people to teach her how to ski in their driveway and. Like countless other local jumpers, Kai was first taught the tricks of the trade by renowned jumping coach Larry Stone. “My parents encouraged me to keep skiing but it was my desire to fly (ski jump) that kept me in it – skiing has always been a big part of my life. Everyone around me skis,” says Kai.
When asked about her favorite competitions, Kai quickly cites the Springer Tournee in Park City, Utah and Winter Start in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Both competitions kick off the winter seasons for Nordic combined and ski jumping. When asked about her coaches here at NYSEF, Kai noted, “like most competitive athletes, it can be very frustrating to learn and refine certain skills and my coaches have supported me throughout my entire athletic career – their support has allowed me to become the athlete I am today.”
Colin Delaney, Head Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Coach at NYSEF, shared insight on Kai and her recent performances. “Kai brings a great attitude and energy to every training session. She has a professional approach, but you can tell she is always having a good time. A stand out moment for me this season was after her performance at the Lake Placid Supertour in the 5k mass start race. Nordic combined athletes don’t generally participate in races with traditional cross country ski athletes from New York and New England. After her top 10 result in the Supertour, Kai was exhausted, but all smiles. After the race she just said ‘That was a lot of fun.’”
Despite the lack of competitions due to COVID-19 last season, Kai stayed motivated thanks to her strive for the perfect jump. “If the competition season ended prematurely this year, I would still stay motivated because I am always trying my hardest at every practice to do my best and be the best,” says Kai. This season, Kai reports that she is working on not becoming discouraged after a bad training or competition day and, instead, to look past these days, learn from them and improve. Her short term goal is to win nordic combined Junior Nationals in Salisbury, CT. Her long term goal is to reach the World Cup level and to eventually compete in the Olympics.
Like most athletes, many have common habits or rituals before competitions and Kai is no different. Before her jump, for instance, Kai checks her bindings exactly three times before getting on the bar to take her jump. Kai’s role models in the sport are her teammates who are always pushing her to be the best. “They give me a new perspective on the sport,” she adds.
When she is not skiing or jumping, Kai is mountain biking, rock climbing, and running.