Eighteen-year-old ski jumper Lucas Gasienica has been living in Park City, Utah, for the last eight or so years but says there's nothing like being back home at Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove.
Lucas was among 47 jumpers of all ages who on Saturday took part in the first day of the 108th annual Norge Ski Jump Tournament, which featured a junior competition and a junior national championship qualifier.
Gasienica listened to rap on his iPod while watching other jumpers, waiting his turn to tackle "the big hill" at 70 meters.
"It's a beautiful day, the track is good, the snow is good. Every single jump is different, it just depends. But it's is always great to be here," said Lucas, whose coach is Scott Smith of Norge Ski Club.
Saturday's crowd of about 1,000 people was among the largest Charlie Sedivec has seen in his 43 years with Norge Ski Club. Sedivec, who is in charge of public relations for the club, said in years past the crowd was mostly composed of jumpers' parents and relatives.
"This time you see a lot of people who just come to watch," he said. "I think people are realizing how exciting it is to see these young kids."
That's no news to Dustin Herbert of Palatine, who's been coming to the Norge tournament for the last two decades. His father started taking him when he was just 7 years old, he said.
"It's always fun," he said on Saturday, when he came with a group of friends. "You see it on TV, and you'd never think that you can see it in person right here."
Linda and Chris Ehlers of Algonquin were first-timers at Norge but had already decided -- barely an hour into it -- to come back next year. "It's amazing how young they start," Chris Ehlers said.
For 11-year-old Marta Glyvka of Vernon Hills, ski jumping is a family tradition. Her father, Andriy, took part in the 1993 world championships while Andriy's twin brother, Vladimir, competed in the Winter Olympic Games in 1998 and 2002. Her coach is her uncle Oleg Glyvka, the twins' older brother.
She's been jumping only since November, and already she has decided she wants to do it professionally, she said.
"I really liked it. It feels like flying when you're jumping off," she said.
Alissa Pollard, 15, of Madison, Wis., said ski jumping has taught her a lot more than one might think.
"It's the whole thing about, 'You've got to get over it and face your fears,'" she said. "It also taught me that success doesn't always come easy. It can take a while. It taught me how to be more patient."
The tournament continues Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. with the K70 U.S. Cup Five Hills Tournament and Norge's Long-Standing Competition.