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Peter Sr., Peter Frenette, and Jennie Frenette at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Photo: Frenette Family
Peter Sr., Peter Frenette, and Jennie Frenette at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Photo: Frenette Family

Family's Olympic dream means sacrifice, extra jobs

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For North Country athletes hoping to reach the Winter Olympics this February in Russia, these next few weeks can be nerve-wracking.

Coaches are still deciding who makes the team and who will watch from the sidelines.

Staying in the competition can also mean serious financial pressure for families struggling to support Olympic-caliber athletes.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Peter Frenette jumping in Lake Placid. Photo:  Mike Lynch, <em>Adirondack Daily Enteprise</em>
Peter Frenette jumping in Lake Placid. Photo: Mike Lynch, Adirondack Daily Enteprise
Brian Mann has our profile of the Frenette family in Saranac Lake, whose son Peter is one of the top American ski jumpers.

It’s a hectic weekday afternoon when I stop by the Frenette house in Saranac Lake.

Jen Frenette is dog-sitting this week and she’s also hustling between jobs - with the local school district and waitressing.

"You know, I wait tables on the side," she said. "And Peter does construction and carpentry and caretaking. You just do what you need to do." 

The Peter she’s talking about there is her husband, Peter Sr. 

Sitting at their kitchen counter, they both say they have no regrets about the investment they’ve made – the sacrifices that have come helping their son Peter chase his Olympic dream.

"I think it's a great thing, you know? Skiing's been a big part of my family and for him to continue this at this level, I think it's awesome."

But make no mistake – this is a costly business, an investment that has reshaped their entire family.

"One year I sat down and I actually thought about plane tickets," Jen said. "Just in plane tickets, it was $10,000."

As the Olympics have grown up into a big-money, big-media spectacle, this part of the Winter Games sometimes gets lost in the mix.

For a lot of US athletes, there are two challenges – competing at an impossibly high level, while also putting food on the table.

"Funding's an issue for us as ski jumpers, because we're not funded by the U.S. ski team or any government, like a lot of other countries. I've had a lot of help from my community. Local people coming to my fundraisers, donating, giving money - anything, really. My mom's always pushed me to be the best I can. My dad's taught me how to ski.”

I meet the younger Peter Frenette – he’s just 21 – at the base of the big ski jumps in Lake Placid.  This right here is where his Olympic chase began.

“That’s where I took my first jumps. Down there on the small hill, the K-18. I went to a learn-to-jump training program one Thursday night with my sister - my older sister actually went, and I kind of tagged along. I was six years old at the time.”

While other moms were taking their kids to soccer games and hockey and football, Jennie Frenette was traveling around the east on the ski jumping circuit. 

Gradually, she says, Peter became more competitive, more serious.

“When he hit high school, he kind of had to make a decision. Because he wanted to be a football player, but he didn’t really have the body for a football player. He’s skinny and tall and jumping won out, basically. So ninth grade, pretty much, he started getting really serious about it.”

During Peter’s senior year of High School, still just 17 years old, he had a brilliant season on the jumping circuit, peaking just as the Olympic team for Vancouver was being named.

“Here’s a local teenager who’s heading to Vancouver to participate in his first Olympic games.”

That’s a report on WPTZ channel 5 that aired in 2010.

“The first time Olympian said he didn’t expect to make it into the games this time around, but fate had different plans.”

“I was definitely surprised that I made the team,” Frenette had said.

In the years since Vancouver, Frenette has competed in Europe and he just wrapped up his first full year on the world cup circuit.


Video: Peter Frenette on the World Cup circuit in Europe

 

“I think people are under the assumption that because he made it last time at such a young age, that he’s automatic. And so I get probably every other day, somebody saying to me, ‘So, you going to Sochi?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, he’s gotta make the team.’ So it’s hard being asked and, you know, expectations. And that’s hard to fulfill expectations and have that pressure. So, hopefully there’s not too much pressure on him.”   

Peter Senior says none of this would been possible without a lot of family and friends and sponsors.

“He’s gotten a lot help in the last years with the community, and not just Saranac Lake community, but Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.”

So there’s a lot riding on these next couple of months.  If Peter Frenette can break into the top tier of ski jumpers on the world circuit, there is the possibility of prize money, sponsorships, a major career. 

Jennie Frenette says some big questions are on hold — waiting until after her son finds out if he’s on the team and after the competition in Russia.

“He’s almost at the point – between the fundraiser we did and a Rally Me fundraiser that we’re doing, and his private donations and the grants, and a sponsorship from ORDA that he – it doesn’t cost him anything. But he’s not getting an education, he’s not making money, he’s not saving for the future. So it’s going to have to be up to him, if he wants to continue doing this. Because some of the best guys are 28. He’s only 21. So it’s really going to have to be up to him. I think it’s going to see how he does this year and he’ll have to make a decision, a life choice.”

Peter is back on the road now, competing in Utah before heading to Europe.  He says he’s trying to ignore all the pressure.

“I’m just going to prepare, just like any other season. Jump my best and hopefully I’m there.”

Back home, his folks say they’re supporting their son in their own different ways.

“I’m a nudge, so I do bug him, probably more than should be bugged,” his mother said.

“I’m a spectator, he gets enough hassle from his mother and his aunts. I have a lucky beer glass over there that I drink before he competes and that’s what I do,” his father said.

It’s likely that Peter Frenette won’t learn whether he’s on the team until late January. 

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