Freestyle Skier Dylan Ferguson Pushes Boundaries


By Lisa Dillman, Chicago Tribune

How about letting freestyler Dylan Ferguson craft and create his boundary-pushing aerial tricks and let others be responsible for naming them?

His ideas form in the air and land on the snow. In what little spare time he had, he once worked on creating clothing with a handy sewing machine. But in his world it's all about the trick and in this case the trick is almost always an homage to the late Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, who electrified the sport when he landed the "Hurricane" four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, winning a silver medal.

"It's definitely a variation of what the Hurricane was: the Hurricane was three flips and five twists," Ferguson said. "Mine is a different variation of that.

"I do three flips and five twists, so backflip with two twists, a backflip with one twist and a backflip with two twists and hopefully land on my feet."

He stumbled over some of the words and added a self-deprecating note: "I can't even say it."

But he can land it.

Ferguson, 25, had the breakthrough last year at Lake Placid, N.Y., and eliminated some of the build-up and stress by keeping the anticipation to a minimum.

"I really didn't tell anyone I was going to do it," Ferguson said. "I sort of just went up and was in the mindset and I didn't want that pressure. Everyone is looking at you, 'He's going to do it now. This is it. This is the moment.'

"I just wanted myself to know: This is my moment. I'm going to do it for myself. It went well. I got to my feet. I did a little front slip on the landing."

He was chatting with a small group of reporters in Park City, Utah, in October about the future and the past.

The past was a significant story in itself.

"I've definitely had the worst-case scenario already," Ferguson said.

Ferguson made the Olympic team in 2010 and was forced to withdraw just before Vancouver because of an appendectomy and multiple complications that followed the surgery.

He watched the opening ceremony from a hospital bed, lost 20 pounds and could not eat for a week.

"I'm pretty skinny to begin with," he said, smiling. "…It's not the best. I enjoy eating. Eating is a hobby of mine."

His close friend and teammate Scotty Bahrke took his spot in Vancouver. Bahrke wrote Ferguson's name on his skis as a "shout-out," and Ferguson felt represented in sprit.

"Ever since I've been a kid, I've wanted to go to the Olympics, get a medal for my country," Ferguson said. "To have that taken because something inside of me was wrong, I could understand maybe if I had a broken leg.

"Or if I hurt it during training or something, it would be a little different. I really didn't have any control of what was going on."

Control has been re-established for a run at Sochi, but it has proved to be challenging. Ferguson is in need of a podium finish in what is a complicated qualifying process for the Olympic team. He finished seventh last week in Deer Valley, Utah, and placed fifth and 13th at two other World Cup events in China in December.

The aerialist with the buzz coming out of Deer Valley was American Jon Lillis, who was fourth, a career best for the 19-year-old. Lake Placid hosts the final Olympic qualifier this weekend.

Regardless of who makes the team, there's little doubt that the members of the men's and women's aerial teams in Sochi will be asked about the impact and legacy of Peterson, the man behind the Hurricane.

In 2011, Peterson took his own life in a remote canyon in Utah. He had battled depression and spoke openly in Vancouver and before the Olympics about his long struggle with drinking and two suicide attempts.

The tight freestyle ski community pulled together to honor Peterson, not only domestically but internationally. Ferguson had traveled the World Cup circuit with Peterson for at least five seasons.

"He was awesome, always having a blast, always having a smile on his face," Ferguson said.

The legacy of the three-time Olympian extends beyond the sport. There is a Speedy Foundation, an organization designed to "increase awareness of mental health and suicide prevention."

Olympian Emily Cook, a close friend, is on the board of the Speedy Foundation.

"I made my decision to continue in the sport before he passed away," she said. "He's in my heart every day when I'm training. I've never been through this process without him. It's something that's very important to me. It's very important to me to communicate his message.

"The message that no matter how amazing your life is, you may struggle."

Ferguson can pay tribute to Peterson in many ways, including hitting his variation of the Hurricane.

"Once Speedy passed away, everyone came together as a group, not just the U.S., but every country in the world sort of reached out," he said. "They wanted to know: 'Is everyone OK?'

"What he did for the sport was amazing. He was the only guy that would go out there every week and throw the Hurricane — that's the reason I and other people want to try five twists."

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