Recently, a photograph of ski jumping on Pill Hill in Hibbing sparked much discussion. Growing up at the then south end of Seventh Avenue it was merely known as The Dump. Like most neighborhoods, we had a group of playmates. One in particular at very young age became one of the regulars, jumping first from the smaller jump and soon the big one, excelling other jumpers. Usually this would bring recognition, but there was one big obstacle: this jumper was a girl. Paulette Kiski Gustin faced problems the rest of our gang weren’t aware of and she was barred from major events. But to us, she was the most fearless of all.
As often as we could, we went to see her flying off the jump. She was kind of small. But she was quite a sight — her carrying skis on the steep trek to the top of the jump. I always waited for that moment, as she trudged forward and turned her head, until she saw family and friends and got the biggest grin.
We all held our breath. Her mother covered her eyes as she came down the jump and flew off the end of the jump in perfect form. We finally got to breathe again as she made the landing.
Just a few members of that gang are still left; she and her husband, after retiring, went to the cities to be close to their boys. This last weekend there was a event which she attended. She sent me a message saying she was surprised about the amount of attention she received. I got teary eyed when she described how proud her husband of 50 years was after he learned of her achievements before their time together.
I replied, I knew you be be at the event yesterday and was going to surprise you and attend myself, but the darn weather wouldn’t allow me. Celebrity status and recognition for you are well deserved. You broke barriers for girls and women today. As kids, we didn’t realize how monumental of an event was happening, but we were all proud of you then, and even more so today. I told her that I was an old friend who was lucky to have witnessed true greatness in the making.