Freestyle skier Molly Summerhayes can hardly contain her excitement as she talks about the dream of representing her country at the Winter Olympics. Soon this will become a reality as the 20-year-old gets set to take to the slopes in PyeongChang, alongside her older sister Katie, to compete against the best in the world as members of Team GB’s largest ever ski and snowboard squad.
“I can’t believe I’ve come from the Sheffield Ski Village to the Olympics,” said halfpipe sensation Molly. “I feel like representing Great Britain and competing for your country at an Olympics is special. It’s all everyone is talking about but it just doesn’t seem real to me. So few people get to do it and it’s an honour in itself getting to wear the Olympic rings and the Team GB badge on your chest.”
To say Molly has had to overcome her fair share of hurdles to gain selection for the Olympics would be an understatement. She had been crowned world junior halfpipe champion in March 2015 and ended the year with a third-placed finish on the Copper Mountain leg of the US Rev Tour. Just as Molly was hitting her stride, she sustained a serious ACL injury in Breckenridge in January 2016.
“It’s been past two years now since I tore it,” reflected Molly. “I’d come third in Copper and I felt like that was the season when I was going to progress the most and get some good results. I was really excited and I felt that knocked me back a bit. The first year of coming back from an injury is quite hard due to the psychological damage it can do. I think it takes more time than a lot of people realise.
“Since the injury it has been quite tough. As soon as I was back on the skis I was having a mental block against a trick I did my knee on. I was trying to have a good, positive outlook on it to get myself back to where I was. I’ve been doing it again for about a year now but it’s just been a bit on and off on how good it has been. There’s no way I’d not do that trick in my run for PyeongChang!”
Since 2012, Molly has been the beneficiary of SportsAid support, including a year on the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS). She regularly competes and trains in destinations as far and wide as New Zealand, South Korea, China and the United States. It’s her parents who cover the majority of her costs but she also works full-time hours at McDonald’s when she is back home.
“I have really enjoyed working at McDonald’s,” said Molly. “I honestly couldn’t imagine not having a job now as it kind of breaks up my training and I do really like it. If it wasn’t something I was happy doing then I think I’d dread having to work. A lot of my best friends come from there and it helps me get back to normal life when I’ve been away skiing. They’re always so interested in what I’ve done.
“I came home from America and I’d been selected for the Olympics and everyone found out and was telling me well done and posting pictures online. The extra support I’ve had from them has been fantastic. I go to places that people don’t expect to visit themselves so they ask me lots of questions about the culture and how different it is to being at home. It’s nice that people show that interest.”
It was the Sheffield Ski Village where Molly and Katie’s love for skiing was born 16 years ago. Their father Richard could see the venue from his workplace in Sheffield Town Centre, and this led to the sisters making their first visit. The rest, as they say, is history. It didn’t take long for Molly and Katie to become more adventurous and the sport began to dominate most evenings and weekends.
“I started skiing when I was four and a half years old,” said Molly. “My dad wanted us to have a hobby and we thought we’d go up to the Ski Village to see what it was like. We had our first lessons there and then we joined the local ski club called Sharks. I started doing racing, a bit of freestyle there, a bit of moguls. We went for quite a few years and then we used to do a Sunday afternoon race league.
“That’s where we met Pat Sharples [GB Park and Pipe Freeski Team Head Coach] for the first time as he was running freestyle camps which we decided to start going to as we wanted to get better. We then joined a few more competitions and started to compete at the Brits. Every weekend we’d pack ourselves into the car - me, my mum, my dad, Katie, James Woods normally and a few others!”
The unique environment which surrounds an Olympic Games may be a bit different to what Molly is used to but there will also be a lot of familiarity in PyeongChang. The support of Katie, who finished seventh in the slopestyle in Sochi four years ago, is a big boost as well as having long-term friends such as James, Peter Speight, Tyler Harding and Rowan Cheshire all competing for Team GB.
“We’ve all grown up together and been to the Saloman Grom Camps from when we were like nine,” said Molly. “We’re probably going on 10 years of being friends. It’s nice to have that familiarity of people we’re there with. It won’t feel that different as they’re who we spend our time with normally but in a different environment. It’s amazing as I know how hard we’ve all worked to get to where we are.
“I do feel like there is no pressure on me,” added Molly. I just want to go out there, try my hardest and ski the best that I can. Being able to do it all with Katie makes it even better too. She obviously went to the last Games so she’s been able to tell me about what to expect and she’s just another person I can go to which helps. I’m very excited that we’re getting to experience the Olympics together.”
In PyeongChang, Molly and Katie will become the first set of sisters to represent Team GB at a Winter Olympics since 1998. Molly knows how proud a moment it will be for their parents, watching back in Sheffield, to see them both competing on the biggest sporting stage. She has shown great resilience and character to reach the Games, but credits her parents, most of all, for the role they’ve played.
“I definitely would not be where I am today without my mum and dad’s support,” said Molly. “I’m not a [UK Sport] funded athlete so a lot of the finance comes from them. Everything that I’ve done I owe to them. They’ll tell everyone that they’re so proud of us and that we’ve done it ourselves but I really wouldn’t be where I am without them and anything I achieve at the Olympics is going to be for them.”