By nature, skiers have to be flexible.

They contort their bodies to slip through slalom gates, and endure severe torque as they carve turns while rumbling downhill at speeds nearing 100 miles per hour in the super-g and downhill events.

For Auburn’s Bump Heldman, being flexible also means staying up a bit later to finish a book report, flying to Europe on a moment’s notice and being able to hop into a car in Italy on the way to Austria for a race.

“I’ve just learned to kind of roll with the punches and see what happens as it comes my way,” Heldman said in an e-mail interview from Austria on Friday.

Heldman learned on Feb. 17 that he made the U.S. Ski Team’s World Junior Alpine squad. Less than a week later, he was on a flight to Europe.

“This year being with the U.S. Ski Team, it has taught me to be very flexible,” Heldman said. “You can be in Italy one morning training and then jump into the car and be over in Austria for a race the next day.”

Sprinkle into this equation the fact that Heldman is the second-youngest member on the team, and that he still has daily homework.

“The biggest difference between me and the other guys is that I’m still in high school,” Heldman said. “They have already graduated and have no other pressures except to ski. Still being in school, I have that other factor placing stress on my daily routine.”

But he’s handled it well. On March 7, the high school senior at Gould Academy will race in the 2007 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships.

Heldman is on his second trip to Europe since Christmas. On his first, he had what he called an “eye-opening experience.”

“The field was a lot deeper compared to racing in the United States,” Heldman said. “Within a tenth of a second there could be 10 racers. With knowing that in order to finish where I want to, I need to ski at my highest level possible.”

Despite some finishes outside of the top 50 in his European races, his record in North America has been solid, and includes a fourth-place finish in the Super Combined at a Nor-Am race in Apex, British Columbia.

But, Heldman said, consistency only takes you so far.

“Consistency comes with preparation,” Heldman said. “The training I have received prior to these upcoming races has been geared towards this championship series. So, consistency isn’t as important as performing when it really counts.”

Also, Heldman said, performing well in North America and performing in Europe are two totally different things.

“Ski racing in the United States shelters you from the international competition,” Heldman said. “It is hard to judge yourself when you have no way to gauge the ability of the competition.”

Still, Heldman is going to give it his best shot.

In the coming month, Heldman is adding even more to his plate. In addition to graduation preparations at Gould, Heldman will participate in the North American Championships in British Columbia and in the U.S. Alpine Championships in Alaska.

“These races are what we have been preparing for during the last 10 months,” Heldman said. “If I ski within myself and know that my preparation has been enough, then that’s all I can hope for. If things don’t pan out the way that I’d hoped, then I will just have to work twice as hard the next year.”

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