Solid Gold Moms: Steamboat Olympians grew up dreaming of the Games
Steamboat Springs has produced more winter Olympians than any other town in the United States. So, the thought of your child becoming an Olympian is probably a little more realistic in Steamboat than anywhere else, noted Penny Fletcher.
For Fletcher, it happened two times over when both of her sons, Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, competed as Nordic combined athletes over the course of multiple Olympics (2014 and 2018 for Bryan and 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022 for Taylor).
Fletcher — along with Heidi Berend and Nancy Good — are all mothers of Nordic combined Olympians. And while their journeys all look different, they all started in the same place: on Howelsen Hill.
“Ben wanted to be on skis when he was 2,” Heidi Berend remembered. “He would clomp around the house in them. His first word was ‘melmet’ for helmet.”
Similarly, Fletcher remembers literally having to drag Bryan and Taylor off the hill after the Wednesday night Hitchens Brothers Jump Series.
“As a 4-year-old, Taylor would follow me around the grocery store in a ski jump position,” said Penny Fletcher.
With sons who lived for skiing and jumping, all the mothers recalled jumps off the roofs of their homes, homemade jumps in the backyard and eventually, the realization that their child could reach the highest level of sport and become an Olympian.
It was a journey filled with elated highs and excruciating lows. It often wasn’t the nerve-wracking competition that the mothers worried about, but what it would be like for their child to lose, to not qualify, to not make the team, to be outdone by someone else. In Fletcher’s case, the outdoing might be done by a brother.
“When you have two sons that are competing in the same sport, you always have one that isn’t quite as successful as the other on any given day,” she said.
So her happiest days were when she got to watch them in a two or four-man team event, competing with each other, rather than against.
As the Fletcher brothers grew up in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, then continued on to Team USA and eventually to multiple Olympic games, competition was steep.
“As they got older, they were extremely competitive, and as a mother I would panic, because one would always beat the other,” Fletcher said. “I would go home and have these talks lined up in my head, but then they had already forgotten about it. Their competition was on the course and their love as brothers was everywhere else.”
Even without family competition though, there was still worry. From the age of 9, Ben Berend set his sights on the Olympics. Intuitively figuring out that he had a better shot at making the Olympics as a Nordic combined athlete, his life revolved around only that.
“Ben was very self-driven,” his mom said. “I was really concerned that he would burn out or regret that he did nothing else in life except eat and sleep Nordic combined. Every year, I checked with him to make sure that this was still his passion, still what he wanted to do, and every year he persisted. My biggest worry was that he wasn’t living a normal life and that he would regret that; he was so mono-focused.”
Eventually though, Olympic dreams were realized and in 2018, all three mothers found themselves cheering on their sons in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It was an experience that they aren’t likely to forget anytime soon. To put it simply, said Nancy Good, “we had an absolute blast.”
Now, four years later, Fletcher will see one son (Taylor) in the 2022 games and Good will be cheering on Jasper. Bryan and Ben have since retired, settled into a new kind of normal life. What remains from nearly a lifetime of training and competition for these men now in their 20s and 30s is the resilience, commitment and dedication that made them the great athletes that they are — and, the support from their mothers.
“Honestly, when you have a little kid who tells you that his dream is to go to the Olympics, you can’t shut the dream down. You support it, wondering all the time, ‘Are you setting them up for failure?’” Berend said. “But it wasn’t my dream, so we just showed up for him.”
As it turned out, all those early mornings and cold evenings on Howelsen Hill were worth it and will forever be a part of life.
“One time, I was driving down 9th Street, and Jasper’s coach Todd Wilson called me and said, ‘Pull over! Jasper is about to go off the 90 for the first time,’” remembered Good. “So I pulled over on 9th and watched him jump. I think about that almost every time I drive downtown.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.