Local girl to become youngest ever on US Freestyle Team
EDWARDS — Vail Valley native Tess Johnson, 14, recently learned she has become the youngest person ever to make the U.S. Ski Team’s Freestyle Team.
Great news, certainly, but for a young woman trying to finish her freshman year of high school, help her soccer team to the playoffs and volunteer with the Youth Coalition, it’s a lot to process at the moment.
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“I was in shock,” upon hearing the news, she said. “But more excited than ever.”
Johnson will be named to the Freestyle Team’s C-Team on coaches’ discretion this August, head moguls coach Matt Gnoza told the Vail Daily on Friday.
Gnoza said the fact that Johnson is as talented as she is at such a young age says a lot about the type of moguls skiers Ski & Snowboard Club Vail is turning out under the leadership of Freestyle Program Director John Dowling.
“There’s quite a few athletes out of Vail that have stepped up,” Gnoza said. “Heidi Kloser, before she was injured at the Olympics, was showing that she was definitely one of the next ones to contend with, and with Morgan Schild coming back shortly, the two of them will be pushing the limit to the top. Then quickly behind them you have a young Tess driving that force. … We’re really excited to have her.”
Dowling said while Johnson may look like your average 14-year-old, she tops out in all the athletic benchmarks his program looks for in a young athlete.
“When I first took the job here at Ski Club Vail, one of the things I was looking forward to was the opportunity to work with Tess Johnson, because I knew who she was and the kind of future she was going to have,” Dowling said. “When we have record boards, Tess is always at the top.”
Tess Johnson’s mother Carol Johnson, who moved to the Vail Valley in ‘89, said she had a feeling about Tess’ athletic ability when she was still a baby.
“She started walking at around 9-10 months,” Carol Johnson said. “I think within four times of Tess skiing she was surpassing her older sister. People started making comments, they’d ski by and say ‘How old is she?’”
Flash forward 12 years, Tess Johnson finishes the 2015 season fourth overall on the North America Cup (NorAm) tour, ninth in the U.S. rankings and second for juniors behind Schild.
“If she keeps her head on her tasks and continues to do what has got her this far, I would be surprised at all to see her on a World Cup start list before the end of the season,” Gnoza said of Tess Johnson’s potential in 2016.
ATTACKING THE BUMPS
For Tess Johnson, though, first things first.
“I’ve been trying to figure out my summer plans with the U.S. Team, and trying to focus on winning playoffs for VMS soccer, and trying to finish my freshman year of high school, so it’s been a pretty busy couple of weeks, but I’m ready to work through it and get to the summer,” she said.
On Friday, she scored the first goal of the game — enough to secure the victory — for Vail Mountain School’s soccer team in their quarterfinal playoff match against Clear Creek. Later that half, she scored a insurance goal.
“She’s an athlete, and she’ll compete no matter what she does,” assistant coach Sylvan Ellefson said of Johnson following the game. “There’s so many good things that can be said about her.”
Johnson says when it comes to her studies, she won’t accept anything less than a 4.0 grade average.
“I actually try to keep my academics ahead of everything,” she said.
Her father, longtime local TJ Johnson, said Tess has always been motivated to succeed, even before entering the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in sixth grade.
“She always had her homework done before she got home from school, or she’d come home from school, take it out and be done in 20 minutes,” TJ Johnson said. “So she’s always had that initiative to just get it done … and one thing we’ve always done as parents is try to set the bar higher.”
Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy principal Geoff Grimmer says it’s a dream getting to work with kids like Tess Johnson.
“Everything she takes on, she takes on with a high, high degree of pride in her work,” Grimmer said. “In any crossroads where she has to give up one thing or the other, she always errs on the side of making sure school is in good order.”
Tess Johnson also serves on the Youth Leaders Council with the Eagle River Youth Coalition.
“It gives us a voice, which I think is really cool,” she said. “A lot of leaders come and talk to us and we get to give them our opinions.”
Tess’ soccer team heads to Denver on Wednesday to compete in semifinals against Denver Christian.
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