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Waugh takes flight in Chicago

Woody Waugh jumps at a competition earlier this year at Silvermine in Eau Claire, Wis. Contributed Photo1 / 2
Woody Waugh jumps at a competition earlier this year at Silvermine in Eau Claire, Wis. Contributed Photo2 / 2

Cloquet High School sophomore Woody Waugh joined classmate and longtime jumping partner-in-crime Aidan Ripp in Illinois for last week's 2017 Junior National Championships for Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined.

Waugh has come a long way since the days when he used to fly off the 20- and 40-meter ski jumps at Cloquet's Pine Valley in a ski suit decorated with spots like a Holstein cow.

"I remember my second time off the 40. I hit my face on some ice and got pretty scratched up," Waugh said, adding that he wore that jumping suit from the age of 5 to about 9 when he returned it, stretched out, to the Cloquet kids ski group at PIne Valley. "They called me the bloody cow."

No matter. He lived to jump another day and now it's in his blood. The son of Jon and Billie Waugh of Cloquet, Woody started jumping and skiing when he was 3 years old, following in the steps of his older siblings, Jack and Emma.

He fell in love with it.

"Jumping gives you a thrill every time, no matter what," said Waugh. "You can have scary jumps or bad jumps, but either way, you're flying through the air."

During last week's Junior Nationals competition in Fox River Grove, Ill., (near Chicago), Waugh placed fourth in the individual Nordic combined U-16 event, and eighth in the U-16 ski jumping competition on the 70-meter jump. He took eighth in team ski jumping and third in team Nordic combined, when he paired up with Gunnar Gilbertson from the Rocky Mountain Division. A gust of crosswind knocked him out of the mostly just-for-fun elimination round, where jumpers went head-to-head against each other in ski jumper brackets, with the longest jump advancing.

Although the Nordic skiing part of the Nordic combined event took place at a ski resort north of Chicago, the jumping competition happened on plastic.

It's not as weird as you would think, said Waugh.

"It's pretty similar to snow as far as the track, which is either steel or porcelain," he said, referring to the track that runs down the jump. "And the landing is pretty similar too, but on the outrun you can't really snowplow (to slow down), so you hit the grass and either go super far if it's wet or if it's dry, you lurch and sometimes fall. The stopping part is tough."

According to his mom, it was the first time they've had to use a summer jumping setup for Junior Nationals. They wet down a steel track on the jump itself, and the landing was plastic, she explained. They also added indoor-outdoor carpeting to the bottom at the last minute to cover the mud, she added.

Although he and Ripp have been competing with and against each other since about second grade when Ripp moved to Cloquet, Waugh said the Junior Nationals was the first time they've been in different age groups. Waugh competed in U-18, while Ripp — 10 or 11 months his senior — competed in the U-18 age group. (Editor's note: Read more about Ripp in "Ripp heads to Norway for next competition.")

Competing at Junior Nationals felt the same and different, Waugh said, comparing it to Central Division competitions he's been participating in around Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois since he was about 11.

"You're there for a full week, with two days of training and three full days of competition," he said, comparing it to the usual one day of training and one day of jumping/skiing. "So by Thursday, it felt like we were almost done but we had two more days of competition."

Although there were torches to be passed and opening ceremonies, Waugh said it didn't feel like a national event at first because he knew so many of the kids there from competing in the Central Division, traveling with the Itasca team and attending summer camps.

"Then you realize, wait, I'm at Nationals," he said. "This is a big deal."