PARK CITY — Megan McJames and Hailey Duke know what it's like to be part of an Olympic team.
They know that athletes who accomplish amazing feats are, in every sense, determined. They work hard, push harder and they never take no for an answer.
Well, unless that rejection comes from the governing body of the sport.
Hearing you're not good enough from a coach or a competitor is one thing. It might hurt your feelings, but it's not going to impede your ability to actually compete.
But hearing you're not good enough from the national team, well, that usually means those Olympic dreams are more fantasy than reality.
It's not that the national team coaches and administrators are the single best judges of talent (although they are pretty good). It's that they decide who gets to be on the national team, and that means determining who gets funding.
And you can't compete if you don't have equipment — or a plane ticket to the international competition sites that make up a World Cup circuit. (Oh, and those World Cup competitions qualify athletes for the Olympic games.)
That's the position Alpine skiers McJames and Duke found themselves in just two years after representing the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. They'd both earned World Cup spots through the North American Cup Circuit, where McJames won the overall title in GS and Duke won third overall in slalom.
"It was an interesting situation," said McJames, who along with Duke has started the Athlete Project (www.athlete-project.com), an organization that will help them continue to chase their international ski racing dreams. "Normally when you get cut, you're expected to just quit, maybe get a desk job. But we kind of felt that it was unprecedented to get cut after earning a World Cup spot. I felt like I'd worked so hard, to let my dream of racing on the World Cup just die, well, I couldn't."
So, after a few days of feeling "bummed," she and Duke, 26, Idaho, hatched a plan to find their own sponsors.
"We just wanted to pursue our dreams of racing on the World Cup circuit, so we formed this team, Independent Ski Racing, LLC, and started fundraising through the Athlete Project," said McJames, a 24-year-old Park City native, who began ski racing at age 8 and graduated from the Winter Sports School. "We don't want to be against the U.S. Ski Team at all," she said, acknowledging that winter sports are suffering economic hardships just like the rest of the economy. "We just feel like this is our opportunity. And really, they've all been supportive of what we're doing. This world is so small."
The duo found a technician who was thrilled to help them, and an anonymous donor stepped forward to pay for their coaching. They rely on fundraising and donations to pay for their travel costs. They're working hard and hoping that fans and businesses will want to be part of their unusual team by donating to their efforts through their website or the Dream Share Project.
McJames said it's been humbling to see how supportive people are of their efforts to continue pursuing their ski racing dreams.
"Maybe it's been a blessing in disguise," she said.