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Olympic exclusive: Jessica Jerome on #Rise, focus and the coolest guy in Sochi

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Park City, Utah's Jessica Jerome made history on Feb. 11 as she and 29 other deserving women hit the hill in Sochi to compete in the first-ever ladies' Olympic ski jumping event. Examiner spoke exclusively with the talented athlete on Feb. 14.

Jerome, 27, began jumping at the tender age of seven. She and her father Peter became instrumental forces in the sport by establishing Women's Ski Jumping USA, which has supported the growth and development of jumpers including world champs Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson.

Jerome has enjoyed great success in the sport, despite suffering a devastating knee injury in 2005 that took her out of contention for nearly two years. The tenacious Jerome fought hard to return to the sport and equally hard to compel the IOC to include women's ski jumping in the Olympic Games, joining a contingent of hopefuls that included Van in efforts to force the IOC's hand. The ladies emerged from the battle victorious in April of 2011 as the normal hill event --but not the large hill or team events-- was at long last added to the Olympic roster, scheduled to debut in Sochi.

Jerome's personal Winter Games dreams came to fruition when she won the United States' inaugural women's Olympic ski jumping trials in December, earning the first event berth ever granted to an American woman.

Her tenth place finish in Sochi bested that of teammates Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van, and cemented her a well-deserved place in sports history.

During the interview, Jerome spoke on several topics, including her role in Liberty Mutual's new comeback and #rise campaign, the most surprising thing about Sochi, and the coolest guy she's met at the Games.

What's the one thing that surprises you the most about the city of Sochi?

I would have to say how pretty everything is. The weather down here on the coast is actually balmy for being February and then up in the mountains it's winter, but it's sunny winter. It's beautiful, the scenery is beautiful and everybody is so nice.

What did you think when you looked down the Sochi Olympic ski jumping hill for the first time?

I was trying to zone everything out, to be completely honest. I was trying to keep my nerves under control and think about our competition as being just like any other competition. It's impossible, though, not to feel the energy and to sort of soak in a little bit of what's on around you, though.

If you could rewrite history and not sustain your knee injury, would you, or do you believe that every second of the journey you've had has been important in transforming you into who you are and developing your character?

I would have to go with the latter. Of course when I did get injured it was scary and I just wished so bad that it happened. But I think that with that setback that I had, I learned a lot and I was able to come back stronger and to rise from that. That's actually the main campaign that I'm a part of right now with Liberty Mutual and 12 other athletes.... We all have comeback and rise stories... and it connects me to these other athletes who otherwise I would not get to know because they're from other sports... My setback is my knee injury. Regular people have setbacks every single day and Liberty Mutual has been there to help us come back and rise from it. If you want to see my rise video, you can go to libertymutual.com/team-usa and you can see all of everybody's videos there.

What does it mean to you personally to be an Olympic pioneer and role model to girls?

I think it hasn't totally sunk in yet because right now I don't think of myself as being a pioneer. I think of myself as being... a part of an effort, I guess you could say. But maybe one day it will all soak in.

Who's the coolest person you've met in Sochi? It doesn't necessarily have to be an athlete.

The coolest person I've met would be the volunteer yesterday on the top of the mountain.... [He] was a student from St. Petersburg and he volunteered to come here and work on the alpine hill. He was interesting. I thought it was very cool that so may Russians were so excited to host the Olympics in their home country and everybody pulled together and it's just really great.

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