Since he was 6 years old, Dan Bevington has dreamed about ski jumping on big hills. In his dreams, he would take off and never land -- he would just fly.
He's used that dream to connect with ski jump athletes he coaches every weekend from November to March in Anchorage with Team AK Ski Jumping.
His students' reaction? They get it, he said.
"I tell them that, they nod their head. It's like I see it, they see it, we're talking the same language," Bevington explained. "I know what they're experiencing, I think that's one of the powerful things about the relationship and the agreement I have with them."
Bevington's work as a coach hasn't just landed him the understanding and respect of his students and colleagues. Now it's landed him some hardware. Hardware that he hopes will elevate Alaska's athletes on the national level.
"The Alaska community is getting acknowledged on a national level, and honestly, I think that if we can stay on this course, we're going to be knocking them off the podium, so to speak," he said.
The 49-year-old Kenai resident will be traveling to Park City, Utah this week to receive the US Ski and Snowboard Association's Domestic Coach of the Year award for ski jumping/nordic combined.
"I like the recognition, it's nice, thank you," he said. "But my relationship with those kids is really what drives me ... I mean, it's a powerful experience to help these kids."
Being a competitive ski jumper for about 14 years during his youth, Bevington draws on his experience to connect to the 40-some athletes he coaches now, who range from age 6 to 60. One can see his passion for the sport he loves is parallel to what he tries to convey to his athletes.
Team AK Ski Jumping is a part of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, and practices every weekend at the Karl Eid Jumps next to Hilltop Ski Area. Along with Bevington, the group has three other coaches and the day-to-day operations are run by program coordinators Karen Compton and Vivienne Murray, who Bevington attributes for his recognition.
"These women took it upon themselves and made it their mission to develop this jumping nordic combined program," he said. "So really my success as a coach is a result of the efforts of all these parents, kids, supporters and more specifically these two women that have allowed me the opportunity to focus on the vision of coaching that I have."
One of the first things Compton and Murray did was set up Bevington with flights to Anchorage from Kenai every weekend during the season so he wouldn't have to spend so much time driving up.
Ski jumping is a unique sport -- in order to make their first run down the hill, athletes have to first overcome their fear along with learning the technical aspect of the sport, Bevington said. In addition, the athletes learn teamwork, sportsmanship and develop relationships with adults other than their parents.
"So they're developing a bond with the other athletes and it's such a wholesome setting because everybody knows that each one of us has our own journey," Bevington said. "It's just this process of growth that is powerful for the youth."
The bond Bevington has with his athletes is seen by Compton and Murray, who both have children in the ski jumping program.
"What's really touching is how he helps kids overcome their fear," Compton said. "Probably unlike most sports, in ski jumping you have to be athletic but you also have to overcome your fear of going off that thing, the fear is very real."
Murray said Bevington's coaching ability will stick with kids long after they move on in life.
"For a child, he's one of those coaches that they'll remember for the rest of their lives," Murray said. "He's not just there for the elite kids, he's there for everybody."
By day, Bevington works for the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a floodplain administrator, but coaching ski jumping is what he is supposed to be doing, he can feel it, he said.
"I just started finding my place in terms of being able to reach these kids," he said. "I know how to connect with them and I know what it means for any part in their journey where ever they're going to go."
The proof is how he talks highly of all of his athletes, not just the elite competitors.
"I've always believed the journey is really the key here. If a kid just rides the landing hill, and that's their big accomplishment -- they've overcome fears, they've controlled their bodies, they've learned something," Bevington said. "And that's something no one will ever take away from them, they'll always remember it their whole lives."
The way he coaches is a throwback to his first ski jump coach, Robert Schumacher, when he was a 6-year-old jumping with the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, Illinois.
"I'll never forget 'Schu' and the things he did to try to inspire me to perform and to experience," Bevington said. "So this journey is powerful."
It's the lessons he learned from Schu that Bevington is trying to instill in his jumpers.
"(Ski jumping) has made me independent, yet it's made me a team player. It's given me confidence -- all of these things," Bevington said.
Now Bevington has a new dream -- to someday have athletes represent not only the state, but the Kenai Peninsula in the nordic combined Olympic event. It would be possible, he said, especially if there could be smaller jumps built outside of Anchorage, where the basic technique of ski jumping can be taught.
Bevington said it would be great to install a big jump, but a small jump would work, in say, Cooper Landing, that had the right ground.
Bevington mentioned there is a ski jump group in Homer already.
"Wouldn't it be something for us to have, even a small sized Olympic hill in Cooper Landing that we can draw national athletes to?" he said.
But first, Bevington said, area residents will have to buy in to the idea.
"It takes community momentum for that to happen. Anchorage seems to be getting to that point now," he said. "And maybe once Anchorage starts taking a bite out of this thing, then the Peninsula will get it then the Mat-Su will get it then Fairbanks will get it."
Since his dream when he was 6, the sport has been a part of who Bevington is.
"It gets in your blood," he said. "When you start to learn how to control your body, when you start to actually experience that lift and fly, it's such a powerful experience because you're doing things that humans have dreamt about for a millennia."
Logan Tuttle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.