BLAKE SEBRING: There’s quite a story behind Fort Wayne’s first Winter Olympian

United States Olympic Winter Games slopestyle skier Nick Goepper poses for a portrait at the 2017 Team USA Media Summit Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

After some rigorous research, it’s been discovered Fort Wayne had its first Winter Olympics participant during the last two games, and he’s a two-time medalist. We should probably consider giving freestyle skier Nick Goepper a key to the city or a parade.

Except he never actually lived here.

Chris and Linda Goepper were working at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio when he took a job with Honeywell in Indianapolis. Linda applied with Honeywell for what she thought was a position in Indianapolis but turned out to be in Fort Wayne. She lived here for a few months when she found out she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. After about six months, the couple moved into a small house in Marion, but all of her medical care continued to be in Fort Wayne so Nick was born in Lutheran Hospital on March 14, 1994.

How ironic is it that Fort Wayne’s first official Winter Olympian lived in Marion, the home of 1988 Olympic figure skaters Wayne and Natalie Seybold who trained in Fort Wayne and are practically adopted as Fort Wayne’s own?

After about 10 months in Marion, the Goepper family moved to Lawrenceburg because it was about 20 miles west of Cincinnati, and Chris was a college basketball official. That’s where Nick fell in love with skiing, continuing a family tradition his mother started growing up in Plainwell, Mich. Linda was 12 when she tried skiing for the first time at Timber Ridge Ski Area. Though she soon suffered a broken leg, she convinced her father to take up the sport when he was 45 and her sister when she was 5. In fact, when her parents retired, they moved to Petoskey instead of Florida.

“The reason my kids are all skiers is because I had such an incredible experience with my family,” Linda said.

Besides skiing, Nick played soccer, football, basketball and every action sport imaginable. Skiing was about sixth on the list of his favorite sports

“I didn’t like it at first, that’s what my mom tells me,” he said. “I fell in love with it late when I was a preteen and a teenager.”

And by then no one could keep him off the slopes. In fact, he’d often duck-walk up the slopes because he had so little patience waiting for the chairlift. After school and on weekends, he’d ski every spare moment.

“When you do something for 60 hours a week, you’re going to get good at it,” Nick said.

His younger sisters who were gymnasts taught him flips he could use on the slopes. Nick eventually left home at age 15 for Portland, Ore., where he worked on Mount Hood.

But he was an oddity joining the national team program from the lower Midwest and Lawrenceburg. If he didn’t believe in himself, no one else would have.

“I had to convince every single person I came in contact with,” Nick said. “It was like a country bumpkin living in the most liberal city on the West Coast. I didn’t really fit in that well. Luckily, I’m pretty stubborn and I incentivized myself and that’s how I was motivated. I’ve always had to prove myself.”

Now he lives in Breckenridge, Colo., when he’s not traveling the world competing. He won a bronze medal in Sochi in 2014 and a silver medal in Pyeongchang in February. He’s also won three gold medals and two silver during Winter X Games. He’d love to have a chance to compete in two more Olympics and believes the best part of his career is still coming.

“I’m always trying to get to the top of the iceberg,” he said. “I’m sort of cursed with being competitive.”

Other than stopping off at Exit 102 to eat on the way to Michigan to see relatives, Nick has never visited Fort Wayne. He doesn’t know anyone from the city. Linda said passing by Fort Wayne means she starts seeing Michigan road signs and she’s close to home. The family almost moved back to Fort Wayne once for job opportunities, Linda said, but decided to stay where they were because there were no ski resorts close enough to allow Jeff to train. At least they are still part of Indiana.

“We recently got to meet the governor and they presented him in the house and the Senate,” Linda said. “As people started to roll out the Nick story, everybody was trying to figure out how they could claim him. It was too funny when I told them he was born in Fort Wayne and one of the local guys said, `I can claim him!’ It was just really cute.”

Well, we’ll take him!

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.


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