Campbell to ski for V.I.

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Her journey to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia was almost as long as her name.

Jasmine Jade Ariel Lyons Campbell - her friends call her "Jazz" - will represent the Virgin Islands at the Olympics next month in the downhill skiing slalom and giant slalom events.

The 22-year-old St. John native took to the sport at a very young age but only became serious about a possible Olympic qualification last year when she took a year off from her studies at Whitman College in Washington to focus on her dream.

She credits her parents for her early love of skiing and, naturally, her unique name.

"I guess they just couldn't make up their mind," she said last week from her home in Sun Valley, Idaho. "But it's OK because I like my name. As for my parents, they have been a driving force for me during this process. I have so much gratitude for them."

Campbell's father, John, represented the V.I. in skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Her mother, Jennifer, also an avid skier, could have joined her husband on the slopes in Albertville, France, but she had to take a slight detour.

"A lot of people don't know this but my mom would have been at the same Olympics as my dad if she didn't have to give birth to me," said Jasmine Campbell, who has two older brothers, Ryan, 24, and Ross, 25.

"My mom actually raced in a World Cup race while she was pregnant. I was born a few months before the Games so she had to take care of me."

The Campbells lived at Chocolate Hole in St. John until Jasmine was 6 years old. Before John Campbell's business moved the family to Puerto Rico, Jasmine Campbell attended the V.I. Montessori School on St. Thomas and rode the ferry to school every day.

It wasn't until after the family moved to Idaho that Campbell tried on a pair of skis for the first time and got that first taste of downhill adrenaline.

"I think I was around 10 when my dad threw my brothers and I into skis and just told us to go fast," Campbell said. "I immediately loved it for the speed."

Campbell's early development in the sport hit a road block when she seriously injured her back while skiing. She graduated from Verde Valley School in Sedona, Ariz., and because of the chronic pain that lingered long after her back injury, she did not ski at all during her junior and senior years of high school.

When she entered Whitman, located in Walla Walla, Wash., a college friend slowly coaxed her back onto the slopes. She spent the first two years of college skiing recreationally with friends.

It wasn't until last summer when Campbell landed on the Olympic radar, setting her sights on Sochi. While at a summer ski camp last year, Campbell made the decision to put her education on hold so she could put all her focus toward the Olympics.

"Last summer, I talked to others who have gone through the Olympic qualification process and they thought I was crazy because I wanted to juggle academics with skiing," said Campbell, who double majors in psychology and philosophy and plans to complete her college degrees in 2015.

"They were right. I never like to do anything halfway so I decided to put my final year of college on hold. So far, it's been an exhaustive and fulfilling process to qualify for the Games so I couldn't imagine doing it all with school on top of it."

Things started to get serious in August when Campbell spent a month in South America - "the only place where you can ski in the summer," she said - as she competed in various South American Cup and National Championship races in Chile and Argentina.

The cultural experience was also significant for Campbell, who celebrated her 22nd birthday while staying with her host family in Argentina.

On the slopes, Campbell's best finish among the nine races in South America was 12th but she also trained with the Argentina ski team and gained valuable experience. It paved the way for her next international stop in China.

"My home base is Sun Valley but these days, my real home is the bottom of a suitcase," said Campbell, who personally funded her venture on top of a $15,000 scholarship from the International Olympic Committee for ski gear, coaching and travel costs.

The two-and-half week trip to China in November and December proved to be a real eye-opener for the young athlete.

"Despite her young age, in the past year, Jasmine has constantly continued to improve her performance," Yuri Gaspar, the general secretary of the V.I. Winter Sports Federation, said. "To the point where she reached the podium in international races in China, not once but two times in a row."

While in China, Campbell became the first V.I. skier to finish in the top 3 at any international ski competition. During consecutive International Ski Federation (FIS) races in Beidahu, China, Campbell climbed the podium twice in the giant slalom.

"I got second in one race and then third the next day in China," Campbell said. "I had been working my tail off at that point and for that to happen, it was really shocking. It gave me an extra boost and that's when I realized that I have it in me. That I may be better than I thought. It was a big moment for me."

From there, Campbell returned to the States and competed in various FIS and university races. On Jan. 8, she took eighth in a FIS race in Park City, Utah, which was a week before she found out she was nominated by the V.I. to compete at the Winter Games.

Over the past year of training and competing, Campbell and Gaspar's 18-year-old daughter, Veronica, each achieved "B" qualifying standards for the upcoming Games, which starts Feb. 7.

But since neither V.I. athlete secured an "A" standard in the slalom or giant slalom events, the territory could only send one. Campbell got the nod based on her qualifying points, said V.I. Olympic Committee President Chico Morales.

"We are just so pleased that the V.I. is back in the Winter Olympics," Morales said last week. "These athletes have put in the time and made huge sacrifices. We are now in the world showcase and that kind of publicity can not be measured in dollars."

Campbell will now be able to etch her uniquely long name into the V.I. Olympic record book. Because when she raises the territory's flag at the opening ceremony in Sochi, it will signal only the second time the V.I. has sent a female skier to the Olympic Games and first since 1992.

"This experience has really been a huge honor," said Campbell, who will leave for Sochi on Wednesday.

She is excited to represent the V.I. but is also looking forward to making a name for herself among the best in the world. "To have this opportunity has been such a privilege and I know that I have to do it justice," Campbell said. "I am not just using the system to get to the Olympics and I plan to prove that at the Games. I want to show everyone that I belong and represent my country to the best of my ability."

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