Cut from US Ski Team, Boise native goes independent

Cut from US Ski Team, Boise native goes independent »Play Video
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Getting cut from the U.S. Ski team isn't the career-killer it might sound like. Boise's Hailey Duke has turned disappointment into opportunity.

It's called spring cleaning.

"In April, they go through budget cuts and see everything," Duke said Thursday. "Sometimes, It doesn't come out in your favor."

After the shock of being cut from the U.S Ski Team wore off, Duke and friend Megan McJames decided to form a small, independent team of their own. In a little less than a month, they've secured a four-person team, world-renowned coaches and even had to turn down requests from other athletes looking to join the team.

"We're kind of creating what we always thought ski racing and a team should be," said Duke - adding that it was hard to say no to other athletes but necessary to operate the way the team wanted.

"We can focus on exactly what we want to do," she said. "We can build on our strengths and work on our weaknesses."

That's a comparative upside to the U.S. team, where just trying to make the grade from one practice to the next can prevent athletes from temporarily slowing down to work on technique.

That's the silver lining to starting a team, which Duke called "really hard." Bode Miller and some of the sport's other big names have been successful in going independent, but only after establishing stardom.

Duke's team is plowing new ground - taking advantage of guaranteed spots in the next world cup for both Duke and teammate Megan McJames. It's a unique situation which won't make going independent easy - but does make it possible.

Each member is back in their home state for the summer trying to drum up financial support. Duke needs more than $50,000 to fund a year's worth of competitive ski racing; her individual goal is twice that.

"We're not just thinking about this year, we want to get to (2014 winter Olympic host) Sochi."

The plan is to be independent for as long as it takes, and the team's fundraising goals are ambitious in order to keep the playing field level. But the ultimate goal is to get back on the U.S. team - not compete against it.

"It's not about the team anymore," the 2010 Olympian said. "It's about us just going out there and skiing. There's no bad feelings, we just want all the support we can get."

To read more or donate to the team, fans can visit athlete-project.com.