By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PERU — Like many area kids, Tristan Jeskanen loves to ride his sled.
But instead of taking leisurely slides down snowy hills, the 16-year-old prefers to navigate tracks of ice down mountain faces at 80 mph.
“It’s just a breathtaking thing,” Tristan said.
The luge athlete spends much of his time at Lake Placid’s Olympic Sports Complex, where he trains with fellow members of the U.S. Luge Association’s competitive teams.
Though Tristan is currently a member of the association’s Junior National “C” Team, he has been invited to join the U.S. Junior National “A” team in Europe this winter to compete on the Luge Junior World Cup circuit.
“It’s my first time I’m going to be able to compete against other countries,” he said.
ON A WHIM
Tristan’s short-term goal is to do well enough on the circuit’s first stops in Norway and Germany to qualify for the Junior World Championships in Park City, Utah, in January. He also hopes to be invited on the second leg of the tour to Canada, Germany and Austria.
Long-term, the Peru teen hopes to represent the United States in luge at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It’s my stepping stone to hopefully making it (to the Olympics),” Tristan said of taking part in this winter’s Junior World Cup events.
Tristan was first introduced to the sport four years ago when, on a whim, he attended a slider search held by the U.S. Luge Association at Clinton Community College.
There, participants were invited to take a shot a sliding down a tarmac hill on luge sleds while scouts looked on hoping to spot new talent.
“First, I was a little nervous,” Tristan said, “and I was like, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’”
But Tristan, then 12, did well and was invited to attend a luge screening camp in Lake Placid, where he slid down the Olympic Sports Complex’s nearly mile-long ice track for the first time.
“That’s where I fell in love with the sport,” he said.
Until this fall, Tristan was enrolled at Peru Central School and attended luge training camps and competitions at various times throughout the year.
Now, he is homeschooled and tends to his studies in Lake Placid at the Olympic training facilities, where he now lives and trains year-round.
He visits his family in Peru for a few weeks at a time when his training and competition schedules allow for it.
“I get homesick a lot, how a normal kid should, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I know I’ll always have a home here, so it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing,” Tristan said.
‘A LOCAL KID’
But while the teen is devoted to building a career as an Olympic luge athlete, all of his equipment, training and travel expenses are currently self-funded.
Just to participate in the upcoming Junior World Cup events alone will cost his family $15,000.
To help with expenses, Tristan’s father, Sami Jeskanen, has begun teaching additional courses at Clinton Community College, where he works as an assistant professor.
The family has also done some fundraising at local events and created a website, real-iceman.com, where people can find out more about Tristan and donate money to aid him in his Olympic quest.
“I’m a local kid, and if I do get to the Olympics, I would be representing not just the country, but our town, the Town of Peru,” Tristan said.
SISTER SLIDES, TOO
When he’s not busy training, competing and keeping up with his schoolwork, Tristan helps to recruit new talent at the Luge Association’s slider searches and volunteers for the Learn to Luge program, which introduces young children to the sport at the sliding track in Lake Placid.
Through the Learn to Luge program, Tristan’s 10-year-old sister, Selena Jeskanen, has also discovered her love of sliding.
“It’s given our family definitely a whole purpose and something we can all enjoy and do together,” Sami said.
Though many people tend to view luge as dangerous because of the high speeds athletes often reach, it’s actually one of the safest sports, according to Tristan.
Luge crashes, he noted, often result in little more than scars from ice burns.
“Scars are not going to kill me,” he said.
For more information about Tristan or to donate money to help with his luge expenses, visit real-iceman.com.
Checks made payable to Tristan Jeskanen may also be mailed to:
P.O. Box 43
Peru, N.Y. 12972
Learn more about the U.S. Luge Association and watch live streaming of luge competitions at usaluge.org.
Email Ashleigh Livingston: