February 25, 2006
Homecoming Heil
Spruce Grove's Golden Girl
SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

Jennifer Heil is talking about taking some time off.

It's well-deserved for sure, but not in the immediate plans. In fact, just a few hours after yesterday's sitdown with Edmonton media, Canada's Golden Girl of the moguls was bound for Korea so she could continue with the remainder of the World Cup season.

The 22-year-old took an extended break from competing before - a year to heal several worsening injuring - but rebounded to claim back-to-back titles on the world circuit. She can claim a third straight Crystal Globe next month and the 2007 world championship is beckoning.

The trick is looking into her crystal ball and picking the right time for a rest because there are new tricks to be mastered.

"I have started it and I'm working at it but I really need to go and grind it out so I can get a year of competing under my belt," said Heil.

The "it" is an incredible backflip-single twist jump plus a sideways-spin variation.

"I was doing a lower degree of difficulty jump at the Olympics and there were quite a few women who did more difficult jumps. I need to keep up with that. I've always been on the front end of trying new tricks and I definitely need to keep pushing myself that way."

BECAME A PRIORITY

Heil's whirlwind trip home to Spruce Grove wasn't planned but became a priority after winning the gold. Her tour started with a stop in the cockpit for pictures with the flight crew (she was the one wearing the captain's hat). Then there were quick stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. She met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, visited a hospital and met up with friends from McGill University before landing at home. She'll be back again at the end of March to be honoured on Jennifer Heil Day.

Time hasn't allowed her to really meet many of her fans, but Heil has a sense of what her gold could do for girls interested in freestyle skiing, just as women's hockey took off following Canada's gold in 2002.

"It's so fun and so dynamic," she said of her sport. "I love being a part of it but more importantly I hope that young girls watching will choose a sport because that's what they want to do - because that's what they feel they have to do.

"I've got letters and e-mails from kids saying they want to do what I do, so that's exciting. I met one kid at the hospital who's a wrestler and he was injured snowboarding. He told me he planned to go to the Olympics, so it was neat to share my medal with someone who was going through such a tough time and for him to be inspired."

INSPIRATION IN HER ACCOMPLISHMENT

Just as a few youngsters will take inspiration in her accomplishment, Heil took that same sort of spirit from seeing freestyle teammate Deidra Dionne just make it to Italy. Only five months earlier, the Red Deer aerialist was nearly paralyzed after a training accident in Australia, yet she recovered enough to compete in Turin.

"She is one of the most amazing people I know and her strength - I don't know anyone who even comes close to her," said Heil. "She is so mentally tough. I don't think I would have ever been able to jump again. She is so impressive."

Heil will be expected to lead the new rendition of the Crazy Canucks into Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. The goal will be to mine more gold so that the one which currently rests in her goggles case has some company.

"It would definitely be the perfect way to end my career," said Heil.

"I wouldn't go on to the following one, that's for sure. It'll be time to go on and find some new challenges."