Jay Panther shows he can take pain in order to compete | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Jay Panther shows he can take pain in order to compete

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

SQUAW VALLEY ” No one can question Jay Panther’s competitive spirit or his love of freestyle skiing.

But even Panther’s dad, L.J., questions the extremes his son will go to in order to compete.

Panther, a former Heavenly Ski Foundation team member, participated Friday in the U.S. Freestyle Championships with a grade-three separation of his AC joint. He wasn’t able to lift his left arm above his waist comfortably, but Panther wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to compete in a rare national championship near his former hometown.

“I’m a competitor. When I hurt my shoulder and they told me I was done, I never doubted that I’d be able to ski today,” said Panther, who injured his shoulder Wednesday while training. “There wasn’t a single person supporting me. Even my dad said I shouldn’t be skiing, but I wanted to come out here and show what I can do. It only takes 25 seconds (per run), so grin and bear it.”

A persistent Panther finally found someone to support his choice to compete with the injury.

“The doctor said if he could bear the pain, he’d let him ski,” L.J. said. “He had his range of motion back 24 hours after the injury.”

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The 25-year-old Panther didn’t perform like he was injured. The U.S. Ski team developmental skier qualified 14th in the early afternoon, then improved to ninth in the finals.

“I love to ski in front of the home crowd, and I’d love to win, but I just wanted to ski. That’s what it’s all about,” Panther said.

Panther is somewhat of a novelty in his sport. He took up mogul skiing at an early age, but then focused on football, soccer and baseball in high school after his family moved to Louisville, Ky. With his talent in baseball, Panther earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. But Panther lost his love of baseball during his freshman season with the Commodores when there was a change in the coaching staff. He decided to return his scholarship and resumed his freestyle skiing career.

“As far as my skiing career goes, my body, I’m 16 years old. I took seven years off,” he said. “The wear and tear on my body is minor compared to (someone else) my age.”

Panther has remained visible to U.S. coaches by performing well on the Nor-Am circuit and dedicating himself to the sport in Park City, Utah. He won a Nor-Am event this winter and finished second overall in the series.

“They are taking my skiing to the next level,” he said of the team’s coaches. “At this point, it’s a matter of staying healthy and putting the runs down when it matters.”

If he does that, Panther will have a shot at realizing his ultimate goal of competing in the Winter Olympics.

“If I have the desire and stay strong, I want to do two more Olympics if I can,” Panther said.

Considering that he endured a lot of pain to compete on Friday, Panther might be hooked on the sport for life.