Lydia Lassila (née Ierodiaconou) is the only woman in aerial skiing to have pulled-off a quad-twisting triple somersault. In fact she is one of the few people in the world able to perform this challenging and hazardous jump.
“My motto is to look at the opportunity rather than the challenge.”
Her fearless attitude and determination have given the former gymnast the best Australian track record in the field, a gold and a bronze medal in the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics respectively, as well as an unbreakable world record among many accolades, some of which she accomplished while being a wife and a mother.
Lassila is featured in a new feature documentary screening nationally from March 10, titled The Will to Fly, directed by Katie Bender, a former aerial skier who trained with Lassila, and animated by Leo Baker. The film, three years in the making, recounts the athlete’s return to the sport after a serious injury and motherhood. The film also touches on gender equality and the misconceptions of what women’s bodies can and cannot do, as well as the struggles Australian athletes of less popular sports have to go though in order to compete against winter Olympians from the northern hemisphere.
“There haven’t been any sporting documentaries like it before,” Lydia Lassila tells Neos Kosmos, admitting that when Bender first came up with the concept she thought a film revolving around herself would be odd.
“The team have followed my story in such an inspiring and motivating way, putting across messages I wasn’t really aware of at the time.”
Bender’s passionate approach, and her certainty that Lassila’s story could help raise the profile of aerial skiing, paid off. The Will to Fly captures Lydia’s determination until the giant leap which led to a gold medal, followed by shattering, heart-gripping crashes and yet another great return.
“I hope my story can help draw attention on issues this country’s Olympians, most of whom live in obscurity, deal with,” she emphasises.
“I’m campaigning for better facilities in Australia so that our athletes can train on our soil and not be overseas all through the year.”
Lassila is still training to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, however, it will depend on whether the Australian government chooses to build a new water-ramp training facility, enabling her to prepare without disrupting her family’s routines.
“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices juggling between responsibilities and, frankly, nothing would have been possible if I wasn’t surrounded by good people,” she continues.
“I had to be confident and know that my son Kai was being well looked after and loved, without missing out on anything, in order to keep my focus on the sport and maintain the same intensity in chasing my goals. I want to be a strong model for other people but for my family as well. I can’t compromise that.”
Lassila feels grateful that she and her husband, Lauri, who is also a skier, were able to give her eldest son the opportunity of travelling around the world and being immersed in different cultures and climates. As their family has grown though, it is essential for both to have proper training facilities in Australia.
“We don’t have a conventional family unit, we share our roles equally and our responsibilities overlap.
“My husband thankfully understood what I was going through, the stress, the agony, the places I needed to be and the intensity that I needed to have in order to keep going and excel on a daily basis,” she explains.
When asked if family holds her back, the 34-year-old Olympian is adamant.
“Family gives me incentive. I think that my age is probably what holds me back more, in the sense that I don’t want to get hurt anymore.
“Having children does make you question whether that pursuit is worth it. I have been there, done that and therefore I am able to notice potential dangers and be more cautious; try to minimise the risk of injuries.
“That’s where good teammates, preparation and planning comes into play,” she says. “Back in the day I was a solo player, a bit of a lone warrior, but now I have a different mentality.”
Lassila has adopted a more responsible and less reckless approach, but has kept the same focus, trying not to let her fear take over her will. In the first years of her career she suffered many injuries and had multiple surgeries in her relentless pursuit of success.
“When you are younger you don’t fully understand the risks that you’re taking and how this will impact your body. I just wanted to be good and was willing to go the distance and push myself beyond what was comfortable from a very early age.
“I was stressed and afraid, especially when I was carrying injuries, which was a lot of the time. I wanted to achieve my goals more than I was afraid for myself,” she admits.
Lassila decided to overcome the physical discrimination of gender and attempt a quad-twisting triple somersault after seeing it done by several male athletes with varying body sets.
“Observing them I realised the barrier was more mental than physical and I thought to myself ‘Why can’t female athletes do the same?’.
“The mental component is challenging. To keep focus on a goal, to come back from setbacks. To seek consistency and keep pushing on every single day.”
Being an athlete is her passion. She loves the whole process of training and testing her limits. The rewarding feeling of daily improvements, the competition and the long lasting friendships she has made on the field.
“I’ve had some amazing opportunities to see stunning places and meet fantastic people. I’ve gained valuable memories and experience,” Lassila concludes.
“I’d love to be involved in mentoring athletes and helping them get to the next level, to continue to be an advocate for their rights and influence their journey of self-awareness and achievement.”