Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
Featured Article: “This 14-Year-Old Ski Daredevil Is Already a Pro, and Trying Not to Scare His Parents” by Bill Pennington
In today’s featured article, you will meet a teenage star of freeskiing — a sport that involves skiing on ungroomed, usually off-piste terrain without a set course. “Kai Jones skis way out of bounds,” Mr. Pennington writes. “But relentless practice on and off the slopes gives him confidence for tricks ready-made to go viral and emblematic of freeskiing’s growth.”
In this lesson, you will learn about Kai and the thrilling but dangerous sport of freeskiing. Then, we invite you to research teenage athletes in professional sports or your own community.
How much of a daredevil are you? How comfortable are you in taking physical risks when you do sports? Are you always trying to go faster or higher, or are you happier with an easier and safer experience?
Before reading the featured article, watch the five-minute video below of the then 11-year-old freeskier Kai Jones. Then, respond to these prompts:
What do you notice? What did you learn about Kai or the sport of freeskiing?
What do you wonder? What questions do you have about the now 14-year-old daredevil or the skill, the thrills and the dangers of the sport?
Does the video make you want to try freeskiing — or does it scare and intimidate you? (Don’t worry if it does, it terrifies this Learning Network writer!)
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins by recounting Kai Jones’s daredevil leaps off a menacing, craggy, 35-foot mountain cliff in Wyoming backcountry when he was only 11 years old. How does the jump illustrate the skills, thrills and challenges of freeskiing? What does it reveal about Kai — his personality, his mental and physical prowess?
2. What details about Kai’s life and personal history do you find most significant or fascinating? Why, in the words of his mother, Shelly, is he “never afraid to catch air”?
3. How have Kai’s parents supported him in his passion for freeskiing? How do they respond to the perennial question, “Isn’t such out-of-bounds skiing, with soaring jumps off mammoth cliffs, just a bit dangerous?”
4. How has the sport of freeskiing grown and changed over the years? How has technology like the internet affected the popularity and profitability of the sport?
5. What are Kai’s goals for his future? How similar or different are they from your own? Do you think he will reach his?
6. Choose one video or photo featured in the article: What drew you to it? What story does it tell about Kai or freeskiing?
7. What is your reaction to the article? Are you inspired by the stories of teenagers? What was most memorable, surprising or inspiring? What life lessons can we learn from Kai’s fearlessness and accomplishments? What questions still remain for you?
Option 1: Share your experiences and opinions.
Choose one or more of the following writing prompts:
Are you an extreme sports fan? If so, do you have a favorite? Freeskiing? Free-climbing? Snowboarding? A.T.V. racing? BASE jumping? BMX? Are you more attracted to extreme sports — those that have a high level of inherent danger — or traditional sports? Why?
How much of a daredevil are you? What kinds of physical risks are you willing to take? What’s the bravest or most dangerous thing you’ve done? How did your parents react to your risk — or did you keep your stunt to yourself?
To confront his fears, Kai said of his jump off a mountain: “You close your eyes and envision the approach you’ve planned. You open your eyes and hope for the best, but you know it’s going to work out because you’ve put in the time to study it.” Does that advice resonate with you? Have you ever overcome a great challenge (physical or otherwise) through studying, planning and envisioning?
If you were Kai’s parents, would you let him continue with his daredevil leaps and vaults? Would you encourage your own children to engage in an extreme sport like freeskiing? Where would you draw the line on what’s too risky and dangerous? Should parents or their children decide what risks they are willing to take?
Option 2: Learn more about other teenage athletes.
Want to find out about other teenage sports stars?
You might start by reading some recent Times profiles of young athletes like the tennis player Coco Gauff, 16, who gained prominence with an upset win over Venus Williams in the opening round at Wimbledon in 2019 and defeating the defending champ Naomi Osaka in the 2020 Australian Open; the skater Gui Khury, 12, who last year was the first person to complete a 1080-degree turn on a vertical ramp; or the track and field runner Athing Mu, 18, whose dreams of an Olympic medal last summer were interrupted by the pandemic.
Or, you could explore the lives of past teen prodigies such as, Simone Biles, who at the age of 16 won her first of five world all-around title in gymnastics and at 19 won five Olympic medals; Chloe Kim, who became the youngest female snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal at age 17; Martina Hingis who at 16 became the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world; or, of course, the “Chosen One,” LeBron James, who went straight to the N.B.A. from high school, eventually becoming the face of the league and winning four world championships.
Here are a few resources from beyond the Times that may be helpful:
What drew you to this athlete? What was most fascinating or surprising about their life and career? How do their story and achievements compare to those of Kai Jones’s? What do these stories tell us about what young people can accomplish — on and off the court? What do they reveal about the hard work, planning and preparation needed to succeed? How do they inspire you?
Option 3: Profile a young athlete in your school or community.
Using text, photos and/or video, tell the story of a young athlete in your community. While your chosen athlete doesn’t need to be as accomplished as Kai Jones or participate in similarly daring physical activities, you should consider what makes him or her stand out. Zoom in on the moments of skill and artistry, emotion and triumph — big or small. To round out your portrait, you may want to include the thoughts and perspectives of the person’s friends, parents, coaches and fans.
Brainstorm a list of questions you could ask to learn about the person’s experiences as an athlete. You might ask: Why did you choose this sport? What is most rewarding about it? What is most challenging? How have parents or coaches supported you? What is your biggest accomplishment? What life lessons have you learned about yourself or the world? What are your athletic goals?
Then, create something to showcase what you learned, whether a short video, an article for your school paper, a podcast or a photo essay.
If you are working on this assignment as part of a class project, you may want to display your work with your classmates’ and publish the profiles in the school newspaper or on the school website.
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