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Fairall tells Shaker School graduates to always remain resilient

  • United States' Nicholas Fairall waves to a camera after an attempt during the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    United States' Nicholas Fairall waves to a camera after an attempt during the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • United States' Nicholas Fairall waves to a camera after an attempt during the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Just this winter Nick Fairall competed on the biggest stage his sport has to offer – the Olympics. But when Fairall stood on the stage at Shaker Road School last night as the guest speaker at the eighth-grade graduation, he experienced something he didn’t feel while he was ski jumping in Sochi – nerves.

“It’s funny, regardless of how big the crowd is you have to speak in front of, you’re going to get a little bit nervous,” said Fairall, who was an eighth-grader at Shaker Road in 2003. “Yet for some reason I could stand on top of a ski jump with thousands of people cheering below and millions watching on TV and be calm.”

Fairall didn’t show his nerves to the crowd at Shaker Road. He kept the audience’s attention, drew some laughs and delivered his message clearly. But even if the 24-year-old Olympian from Andover had stuttered, or forgotten his place, or even tripped off the stage, it would have only enhanced his message.

“Do not be afraid of failure, but never accept it,” he told the 26 graduates and the family, friends, faculty and alumni gathered beneath a sprawling white tent on the school’s lawn. “Learn from it and embrace it. Look for the opportunities it creates. Because those setbacks are the setups for your future success.”

Fairall revealed some of his own failures to the crowd. He admitted to being so afraid of failure that he refused to get up on that same Shaker Road stage to sing or act in a play back when he was a student at the school. And he recalled the winter of 2010 when he went from being the top contender for a spot on the Olympic ski jumping team to just missing the cut for the Vancouver Games.

“After failing to make the 2010 Olympic team, I felt like garbage,” Fairall said in his speech. “I felt so depressed I didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was such a horrible feeling being so close to the dream that you worked your entire life for.”

Of course Fairall did overcome that disappointment, and four years later he finished first in the U.S. Olympic trials to earn a spot on the team headed to Sochi. He failed to advance past the first round of jumps on the normal hill in Russia, but he overcame that failure by finishing 35th overall in the large hill competition to lead the U.S. to a 10th-place team finish.

Fairall would have liked better results, but he still loved his Olympic experience. He walked in the opening ceremonies, mingled with athletes from all over the world and took in some other Olympic events, including the women’s gold-medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada and the men’s bronze-medal game between the U.S. and Finland.

While going to the Olympics was always a goal for Fairall, he said the experience hasn’t changed him and that he’s still “someone people can connect with and talk to.”

Doug Hicks, Head of School at Shaker Road, would agree.

“(Fairall) represents everything that we consider to be Shaker qualities,” Hicks said when he introduced Fairall. “He has integrity, honesty, drive, sincerity and is probably one of the most humble people you’ll meet.”

Shaker Road isn’t the only school Fairall has spent time at since returning from Sochi. He helped coach the track team at Andover Elementary/Middle School this spring. He’s also working with Professor Lisa McManus at Norwich University training the school’s cadets and other future military officers in Military Arnis, a martial art that McManus created and uses as a vehicle to develop leadership skills. McManus, a former Marine, first introduced Fairall to Military Arnis back in 2010 to help him cope with failing to make the Olympic team.

When he’s not training others, Fairall is in training himself as part of the USA Ski Jumping team. At this time of year it’s mostly physical training, but he and the rest of the team do get in some jumps at the facilities in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah, where layers of plastic can act as snow. This summer he’ll take part in the U.S. National Championships, and look to defend the large hill title he won last year, before heading back to Europe for the start of the World Cup season in November.

That schedule doesn’t come with the kind of spotlight that most American world class athletes are used to, but Fairall isn’t like most world class athletes, which is exactly why he was speaking at his old school last night.

“It’s hard to find role models today, especially in athletics, that don’t let you down,” Hicks said in his introductory comments. “Nick is the kind of role model, and the people he jumps with are the kind of role models, in athletics that won’t let you down. He’ll take you to new heights.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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