World Championship Freestyle Skiing Silver Medallist
9 December 2017How freestyle skiers Katie and Molly Summerhayes are working together towards Winter Olympics goal
It can, at first, feel a little strange to hear one of Great Britain’s finest winter athletes describe flipping burgers at a Sheffield fast-food restaurant as the perfect occupation. But for Molly Summerhayes, work at the local McDonald’s provides a welcome, if unusual, break from her second somewhat more glamorous life as a globetrotting freestyle skier.
“I come and go quite a lot,” she says. “Some of my colleagues don’t really understand it. I was sat having my break with another lad recently and when I told him I was going to New Zealand, he said ‘Would you not just like to go to Amsterdam with your mates for three days?’”
The job also provides some much-needed cash. Aside from grants from the SportsAid charity, Summerhayes receives no personal funding from UK Sport and says she needs to raise £15,000 a year as a “minimum” to pay for life on the road where she competes as a freestyle skier in the halfpipe and is working towards qualification for next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“I put something from what I earn every month to my mum and dad,” she says. “A lot of the time, it is them forking out to help me, but they want to do it. They always told me that if I need to go somewhere to compete, they will get me there.”
Such financial concerns are thankfully not shared by her sister Katie who does receive funding from UK Sport so has no need to get her hands dirty – or, indeed, greasy – in her spare time.
“I always tell her she just needs to do a week’s work to see how hard it is,” Molly says with a laugh and a pointed look towards her sister.
At 22, Katie is two years older than Molly and is one of Great Britain’s leading hopes for a medal in South Korea, having finished seventh in the ski slopestyle event at Sochi in 2014.
She will be pushed and encouraged all the way by her younger sibling, even if the regular spats might not always paint a picture of sisterly harmony.
“We fall out every day,” Katie says. A recent disagreement at five o’clock in the morning when they were trying and failing to pack their skiing gear into Molly’s Peugeot 107, “did not go down well with Mum and Dad”, but they are quick to point out that there is never any lasting damage.
“We always make up and move on,” she says. “We spend every day together. It is great having her there. You can always talk to each other more than perhaps you might with a friend.”
The Summerhayes were just six and four when they first toddled onto the slopes at the now derelict Ski Village in Sheffield. “We went for a lesson, and we enjoyed it,” says Katie. “We started doing racing, moguls, halfpipes – it started from there.” So, it seems, did the competition between the pair.
“She has always been better than me and I have known it,” says Molly. “But we have always tried to out-to each other, every time.”
For now, the focus for Molly is on following in Katie’s footsteps and qualifying for a Winter Olympics. She has yet to seal her place in South Korea, and the final event where she can qualify is at the Californian resort of Mammoth Mountain next month.
If she succeeds, it will be the high-point of a career interrupted by a torn cruciate ligament in her knee last year. “This is my first season back, and I am still struggling with a few things,” she says. “But I am feeling more confident.”
As ever, she had the support of Katie to rely on during her rehabilitation, especially as the older Summerhayes has twice suffered the same injury.
“When she first did it, I felt terrible because I know how horrible it is,” the elder sibling says.
Molly’s recovery process does not include using the staff discount to feast on McDonald’s finest fare. While her colleagues enjoy their burgers, she nibbles on fruit or a pre-prepared salad. Sacrifices must be made.
“I am not going to ski for ever,” she says. “So I’ve got to make the most of the opportunities I get.”