Truckee man is proud and enthusiastic one-man Jamaican ski team
Published Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010
The drive comes from deep inside, propelling Errol Kerr toward an Olympic moment that connects two countries, two parents.
Kerr, 23, lives with his ski-loving American mother, who helps him practice his starts in homemade gates at their house in Truckee.
His Jamaican father died when Kerr was 12. So when Kerr straps on his skis for the Olympic ski cross event on Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Feb. 21, he'll compete for Jamaica and fulfill his dream. He is looking to create more than a sequel to the film "Cool Runnings."
"This is something I set out to do a long time ago," Kerr said recently. "This is the land of my father. This is in my DNA."
Kerr talks about feeding off the good vibes he gets from seeing Jamaicans embrace and help each other.
"I want to help them succeed," he said. "We're all going in debt right now trying to make this happen. God willing, we'll come away with a medal and people will get behind us and we'll be able to continue to do this for a number of years.
"I want to put that little island on the Alpine ski map."
Kerr is the only member of the Jamaican Olympic team, according to Jamaican Ski Federation President Richard Salm, who said a lack of funding has produced a serious bump on the road to Canada.
Ideally, Kerr would have spent part of our summer training in the Southern Hemisphere, where it was winter, but Salm said there simply wasn't enough money. Donations have helped, but Kerr remains far short of the $15,000 per month Salm said is needed to train, travel and compete in ski cross.
"The economic climate hasn't actually been very friendly toward us," Salm said. "Now that he's beginning to gain some recognition, which he should have gotten much earlier, people are beginning to talk about it.
"He deserves a lot more support than he's got. … If he can do it under these circumstances, we have nowhere to go but up."
Said Kerr's coach, Eric Holmer: "All the training we've done, we've had to do it as cheap as possible at home."
No snow, but lots of spirit
Jamaica and Winter Olympics are closer to an oxymoron than a gold medal. The Caribbean country is 90 miles south of Cuba and is 1,000 square miles smaller than the state of Connecticut. Unlike Connecticut, though, it doesn't snow in Jamaica. The average February low temperature is 72 degrees.
Kerr's Olympic quest brings back memories of the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, depicted in the movie "Cool Runnings." The Jamaicans crashed during one of their Olympic runs, but walked with their sled to the finish.
The Jamaican bobsled team, which finished 14th in the 1994 Winter Olympics, failed to qualify for the Vancouver Games.
"They kind of laid the groundwork," Kerr said. "They've already put Jamaica on the scene in the Winter Olympics, created this kind of buzz."
But the comparisons to Usain Bolt, a Jamaican sprinter, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, are a bit much for Kerr.
"I don't feel like I deserve that," he said.
As a Tahoe-area Winter Olympian, Kerr shares the spotlight with eight other athletes, including 2006 giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso and 2002 moguls silver medalist Shannon Bahrke.
But his decision to compete for the Caribbean island nation has piqued interest. That became evident during a World Cup competition last month in Blue Mountain, Ontario, which was telecast live in Jamaica.
As Kerr finished his run, he saw 15 people sitting near the finish line with green-yellow-and-black Jamaican flags, 'No. 1' signs and rastafarian hats.
"I'm someone that feeds off that energy," he said. "I get that much more excited and more amped up and perform better."
Said Salm: "There's always a lot of national spirit. It's an incredibly sports-minded nation."
The road to Vancouver
Kerr's parents met in Jamaica. He lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., then moved to the Bay Area when he was 11/2, making regular trips to a family vacation home at Lake Tahoe.
When he was 9, Kerr said, his mother asked him where he'd like to live.
"I had a passion for skiing," said Kerr, who voted for a move to the Tahoe area. "I was lucky enough to be able to move to the mountains and fulfill my dreams."
Kerr was a traditional Alpine skier until trying ski cross, a freestyle event making its Olympic debut, a little more than two years ago. The sport resembles motocross on skis, with groups of four skiers racing down a course that includes jumps and bumps.
Since Kerr competed in both BMX and motocross in college, he said he isn't fazed by all the jostling for position.
"The start's a totally different game than alpine," Kerr said.
Which is where his Mom comes in. She competed as a skier until she was 14. Now, she supports her son's Olympic dream, occasionally helping him practice his starts at one of two start gates they built at their house in Truckee.
"The gates at the house, that's going fantastic," Catherine Kerr said. "That's pretty exciting. It (improvement) is definitely showing.
"I just think his father would be walking around saying, 'My son … oh, yeah.' "
Kerr finished 28th in the Blue Mountain World Cup event and 18th in a World Cup race in Lake Placid, N.Y., before placing ninth in the recent Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo..
Holmer said the 5-foot-8, 209-pound Kerr needs to improve his start but excels at judging terrain, air time and the speed he's carrying down the mountain.
"That's his strongest attribute, his feel for the terrain," Holmer said. "He doesn't have the best start in the world. It's very rare he … gets out in front of people."
Kerr, who trains at Alpine Meadows, lacks ski cross experience. Enthusiasm, though, runs through his veins.
"I'm right where I want to be," he said. "I'm a lot younger than the guys who are really good at this sport. By no means will this be my last Olympics.
"I honestly feel like I could go out and win Vancouver. That's what I want to do."
That would touch off a celebration in Truckee. And a national party in Jamaica.
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