Travis Gerrits crashes, but has family to fall back on

Canada's Travis Gerrits crashes during the men's freestyle skiing aerials qualification round at...

Canada's Travis Gerrits crashes during the men's freestyle skiing aerials qualification round at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor, Feb. 17, 2014. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)

Ted Wyman, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:53 PM ET

KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - From a homemade ramp in his backyard to the soaring heights of the Olympic stage, Travis Gerrits has always had incredible support from his family and friends.

So it was not much of a surprise to see his family front and centre as he competed in freestyle skiing aerials on Monday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

Nor was it a shock to find out that about 1,000 people crammed into the Milton Sports Centre in his Ontario hometown to watch his performance on TV.

That goes to show you what kind of guy the 22-year-old Gerrits is.

Even when he fell short on the world’s biggest stage, failing to qualify for the final and finishing out of the medals, Gerrits was soaking up the atmosphere. He was thrilled for a friend who won the gold medal (Anton Kushnir of Belarus) and talked about an Olympic experience that could not be dampened by something so trivial as missing the podium.

“I’ve got the most incredible family and friends and hometown of Milton and I couldn’t be more proud to be Canadian right now,” said Gerrits, who was raised by parents Rob and Heather near Milton.

“To just be here and to get the support that you get from around the world is incredible. Sports has given me so much.”

Gerrits had a tough day and wound up seventh overall, but had a huge smile on his face at the end. He crashed spectacularly on his first qualifying jump, losing control on the landing and doing a pair of forward somersaults before reaching the bottom of the slope.

“The first one in the qualifier, I did five flips actually — three backwards and then two forwards,” he laughed.

Gerrits had decent jumps in the second qualifier and made it through the first elimination round before getting knocked out in the Round of 8.

“I actually came back from the first crash in the qualifications beautifully,” Gerrits said. “I jumped really well, technically speaking, in the air. My landings are coming. It was just a matter of speed tonight.

“Under the lights here in Sochi, it doesn’t get much better. We have a perfect site, perfect conditions tonight and they put on a spectacular event.”

His graciousness is just one of the features that make this young man so likeable and you can see where it comes from when you meet his family and learn a little about their history.

Rob and Heather got Travis and his brother Tyler started in the sport by building an aerials ramp in the backyard of their home. The brothers styled themselves as the Backyard Boys when they both started competing.

“The ramp wasn’t actually too big,” Travis said. “I think I was nine or 10 years old and I weighed about 60 pounds, but it was good enough to start my aerial career.

“Mom and dad would take the snowblower from the garage and literally blow all the snow from our backyard and build this ramp off of picnic tables and hay bales and that’s where Tyler and I would spend our weekends and holidays.”

Given how far they’ve come together, it made for a pretty special moment when Rob, Heather, Tyler and Travis’s girlfriend Catherine Lemire were able to share the Olympic experience.

“It was a dream watching him, he just came a little bit short on that one jump but we’re so proud of him,” Rob Gerrits said.

The feeling was mutual.

“They were a huge part of me being at ease and feeling at home when you are so far away,” Travis said.

“I just want to thank them for sharing the dream. And thank you, Milton. This is my inspiration ... a town rallying behind one athlete as they chase their dreams. I hope it inspires the kids back home as well and encourages people to go beyond what is normal.”

BROTHERLY LOVE

He’s been beside his brother every step of the way this season, documenting a once-in-a-lifetime journey that ended here at the Olympic Winter Games.

Tyler Gerrits has been following his brother Travis around the world, from training in B.C., to competitions in China, the United States and Finland, to the aerials competition at Sochi 2014.

Tyler, the younger brother, has captured the entire adventure on his video camera and is planning to make a documentary to share with the world.

But more than anything, he’s had a chance to share the entire experience of an Olympic season with his brother.

“Honestly, he’s a fantastic brother,” said Tyler, who learned aerials with his brother on a course they built in their backyard. “I couldn’t ask for any better of a big brother. I have to say I love him.

“I’m proud of him and I’m happy he decided to make it a family affair at the Olympics Games.”

Travis, who won his first World Cup event in December in Beijing before a crowd of 40,000 at the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, said his brother has been a calming influence on him throughout the season.

“My brother has been one of the most inspirational guys throughout this whole year,” Travis said.

“He followed me to my first World Cup win in Beijing in the Bird’s Nest and then to my Olympic training camp in Finland.

“He really provided a grounding effect for me. Even when you’re 60 feet up in the air you need to stay humble and he was able to provide that inspiration for me to keep pushing my limits and go beyond what’s normal.”

ted.wyman@sunmedia.ca


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