Travis Gerrits Shares his Olympic Story and Living with Bipolar Disorder

 TyGerr Images

TyGerr Images

By Victoria Klassen

Active in gymnastics, trampoline and skiing, from a young age Travis Gerrits knew he wanted to go to the Olympics. After watching Nicolas Fontaine compete in aerial skiing at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Travis realized aerial skiing was the sport that would get him there. In 2014, Travis made his Olympic debut in Sochi.

“As the years went by, the dream was becoming more and more vivid in my mind and I started setting short term and long term goals. So I could see my progression from the age of 13 to the Olympics in 2014,” said Travis.  To represent Canada at the biggest international competition there is was such an honour. It wasn’t without the local support of my community in Milton, everyone who’s helped me get to where I am today with another Games coming up in February. The seventh-place finish in Sochi definitely left me wanting more, although I was very content with my jumping and the execution of each of my tricks.”

With the 2018 Winter Olympics on the horizon, Travis is in the process of qualifying for the Games. He said he has been working on getting more amplitude in the air, allowing him to break form less, which will result in higher scores. After knee surgery, just 217 days out from the 2018 Olympics, Travis is back training and feeling good about his skiing.

“There’s a lot of work still to do, but seeing my training is going so well — I’m feeling confident about the season, and confident about my body and the mindset that I’m in,” expressed Travis.

Travis started skiing with his brother at Snow Valley, first in a racing program and then they began skiing moguls. They were not affiliated with any clubs when they competed at mogul competitions, but that didn’t stop the brothers from being noticed by Nicolas Fontaine for their skills. Travis began training on the water ramps at Lake Placid, and from there made Freestyle Canada’s National Development Team for aerials at age 14.

Skiing competitively from a young age, 26-year-old Travis has been balancing school and skiing for most of his life. He said school gives him an outlet to take his mind off of jumping.

“In high school, I missed over 50 per cent of my classes and still graduated with all of my classmates because I put the work in. I’d take the work with me and do it in the car and do it on the way to the training centre or the hill. My teachers were great, I had a great relationship with the principal and all of my teachers, and they respected my career as much as I respected the workload they gave me,” said Travis. “I now still encourage young athletes to stay in school and find that balance that allows you to keep building up a résumé. Life after skiing is just as important as skiing itself.”

Travis has also kept up with his education after high school. One of his sponsors, Visa, has paid for his education at Stanford University, where he just completed his advanced project management certificate. He is now considering another certificate or a degree in business. In the future, Travis would like to enter the business side of sport, ideally as an athlete marketing manager.

“I know from being on the other side, having great marketing managers makes the world a whole lot easier when you’re dealing with big events like the Olympic Games, World Cups, World Championships,” Travis acknowledged. “To find sponsors and support for these athletes is key and can’t be done alone. I’m lucky to have my mom as my manager and agent — she manages all of my affairs.”

Another plan Travis has for the future is to begin more public speaking about mental health. In August, Travis posted a video on Facebook that talked about his diagnosis of bi-polar disorder after the Sochi Olympics.

“For me, bringing it to the forefront has helped not only other people, but myself accept the diagnosis. To move on, creating new goals, and not letting mental health stand in the way of you and your dreams. If I can help inspire people go get help for the first time, because they know they have the struggle as well, then fantastic. It’s something I’d like to start doing more of, maybe after my career in skiing or especially after this big season, is doing some more public speaking surrounding the topic of mental health,” Travis shared.

“I believe with a bigger voice after having been to one, potentially two, Olympic Games, I have the opportunity to share my story on a bigger platform. You can definitely inspire the younger generation to get help or speak out about their own struggles. It’s been a very positive response to the video that I did post. I’m excited to work with Bell Let’s Talk and share my story on an even bigger level this coming January.”

Sixteen years after watching Nicolas Fontaine compete in the Olympics, Travis is on the path to competing in his second Olympic Games.

“Nicolas Fontaine, he was a god in the sport of aerials. He took the time out of his busy schedule, when he was training at the time, to help guide me and my brother towards a career in aerial skiing,” remembered Travis. “He was doing tricks far beyond his time. He’s still around the ski world, coaching the development program. He was an inspiring individual who pushed the limits of the sport and his own body. To follow in his footsteps, if you will, has been a great challenge and great opportunity for me to travel the world doing what I love.”