For Tara Geraghty-Moats, nothing compares to the sense of weightlessness she feels and the way spectators appear to sink into the ground when she soars off a ski jump — except maybe the feeling of pushing her physical limits during a cross-country ski race.
The two sports have been a part of the 24-year-old New England native’s life since her grammar-school days — she picked up both at the age of 9 and in both, she excelled.
By the time she was 15, her jumping talents earned her a spot on the Women’s Ski Jumping USA development team, and she captured third place at the 2009 Springer Tournee in Park City, Utah. But within a year of her nomination, due to concurrent knee injuries, she was forced to leave the ski hill and for the next four seasons, she focused on cross-country skiing.
Geraghty-Moats went on to rack up multiple medals at Junior Nationals, including a gold. Worried she might lose interest in cross-country, she put a rifle on her back and took up biathlon. From 2011 to 2014, she raced four seasons with US Biathlon’s Junior National biathlon team and in 2013, she won the junior sprint at Swedish Biathlon Championships.
Despite being told she would never jump again, she returned to the hill in 2013. That same year, she jumped to fifth at ski-jumping nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., which earned her nomination to the Women’s Ski Jumping USA World Cup B-team.
While Geraghty-Moats saw success in both jumping and XC over the years, she never had the opportunity to showcase her combined abilities at an international level. Not because she didn’t want to, but because the opportunity didn’t exist — until this year.
“We have sort of been waiting for the sport to catch up with Tara Geraghty-Moats for quite a while,” Billy Demong, executive director for USA Nordic Sport (the U.S. governing body for men’s ski jumping and nordic combined) said on the phone earlier this month.
Now it appears to be heading in Geraghty-Moats’s favor. Prior to this season, most of the cross-country ski training she did was either for pleasure or to maintain fitness for ski jumping. Now her training will take on a new meaning, as for the first time in history, women’s nordic combined will be included in the International Ski Federation (FIS) Continental Cup schedule. The inaugural women’s Nordic Combined event in the U.S. will be the USSA National Championships in Lake Placid on October 7. Demong anticipates eight to ten women to participate in the event.
“I’ve been wanting to compete on an international level for nordic combined for a long time,” Geraghty-Moats said on the phone this month. “It’s something I’m really invested in long term and something I’d like to see at a World Championships and Olympic-level competition. I’m really looking forward to helping develop the sport and helping mentor the younger girls that are getting into and also performing at a high level internationally.”
Women’s nordic combined has not yet been contested at the World Cup or Olympic level. Since this season marks an Olympic year, Geraghty-Moats will put her focus on World Cup ski-jumping events and enter as many FIS nordic-combined Continental Cups as she can.
“The ideal situation would be that I would qualify [for the 2018 Winter Olympics] in ski jumping and then am able to compete all the nordic combined races,” she said. “But there’s no way for me to tell where I’ll be in the points for the Olympic qualifying competitions … so hopefully I’ll be able to do them all, but I don’t really know.”
According to Demong, incorporating women’s nordic combined into the FIS schedule has been “on the radar for quite a while.” However, one blockade that prevented immediate action was the risk of draining athletes from a developing sport. Women’s ski jumping was added to Nordic World Ski Championships in 2009, the World Cup in 2011 and the Olympics in 2014.
“I think [women’s nordic combined] has really been in discussion since it was obvious that women’s ski jumping was going to be in the Olympics,” Demong said. “At the FIS level, I think one of the biggest challenges is with women’s ski jumping, you still have a developing sport. The ranks just aren’t as large and deep as the men’s side. And so I think there was a lot of fear that if you add another discipline, it could truncate the growth of women’s jumping.”
Over the past few years, the U.S. has seen more junior women participating in ski jumping. According to Demong, some a clubs have doubled their numbers within the last five years.
“The largest increase we saw in any user group was U8 [under 8], U10, and U12 in the Midwest, but also in Park City there was a pretty big increase, too,” he said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of participation before probably because they didn’t see a pathway. There were some diehards, like Tara and Gabby [Armstrong], but there weren’t droves of them and I think now there will be more in the sport because there’s a much more clear pipeline.”
This year will also be the first year that women’s nordic combined will be included at Junior World Championships. To Demong’s knowledge, Geraghty-Moats and Armstrong are the only two senior American women that plan to compete in the FIS Continental Cup competitions. Both will be supported by USA Nordic national-team staff at nordic-combined events, since the women’s events are scheduled to align with the men’s competitions.
“We have some really good 14 and 15 year olds that we’d like to see participate in the FIS Youth Cups again this year,” Demong added.
Also this year, the inaugural Women’s Nordic Combined National Championships will be held Oct. 7 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
With a longtime dream finally coming to fruition, Geraghty-Moats is not ready to let it end there.
“I don’t necessarily schedule things four years out,” she said. “But I definitely know that nordic-combined is going to be in my goals as an athlete for the foreseeable future. Obviously I need to stay healthy and continue doing things in my life, like going to school and staying at a high level of skiing, but I’m 100-percent sure that I will do nordic combined for as long as possible.”
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.