Freddy Krueger’s career has been shrouded in fear. Yes, certainly the fear of the brutal crashes that are part and parcel of jumping has always been there. But, more crucially, it’s the fear of not having enough information, not living up to his own lofty expectations, not doing enough to beat his biggest rival, and the fear of falling off the top of the sport once he got there that has driven him all these years. For Freddy, fear has been his friend.
Nobody would have said Freddy was a natural talent. — Chris Sullivan
Freddy arrived at University of Louisiana Monroe, then known as Northeastern Louisiana University, as a virtual unknown. In fact, at least one teammate assumed that the only reason he was there was because his two older sisters, Lori and Julie, had both skied for the powerhouse collegiate program. “Nobody knew who Freddy was. He was just a kid from the Midwest,” says teammate, best friend and future Pro Tour skier Chris Sullivan. Even Karen Truelove, his future wife and teammate at ULM, wasn’t blown away by his skiing early on. “Honestly, when we were training on the team, he wasn’t remarkable,” recalls Karen, whom Freddy credits for fulfilling the role of his coach, mentor, psychologist and role model for the last 18 years. “He didn’t catch my attention as someone who was going to go pro.”
The first final I ever made, I won it. It was my third pro tournament.
Freddy credits his transition from “just a kid from the Midwest” to becoming heir apparent to Sammy Duvall to transferring from ULM to Louisiana State University along with Chris Sullivan so they could train full time with Jay Bennett at his ski school in Baton Rouge. For the first time in his life, Freddy was able to take advantage of a controlled, methodical approach to training, sort of a “playbook” authored by Jay Bennett and interpreted by Chris.
“That’s when Freddy really started to become Freddy, because everything was there. As much drive and will as he had, he now had the tools to go along with all that,” says Chris, who, unlike Freddy, was a product of the ski-school system. “It happened pretty quickly too. We worked hard the whole winter, and then he beat Sammy pretty much out of the blue at a Pro Tour stop in Shreveport. All of a sudden, he was different. He’d put himself on another level.”
“After that, I immediately stepped in and felt like I could compete,” Freddy says.
He is still the measuring stick I use to make sure I’m doing what I should be doing.
When your career lasts as long as Freddy’s has, challengers come and go. But one competitor in particular has occupied the prime spot in Freddy’s competitive psyche: Jaret Llewellyn. “Our careers are so intertwined that it’s hard to separate them. He was by far the toughest competitor I ever skied against. Every practice set, every round, I was being measured against him. Even today I still catch myself wondering, ‘If Jaret was healthy and jumping right now, would that have beaten him?’”
I pick my kids up every day from school, and not a lot of dads do that.
While the sport — and the commercial opportunities it offers — has changed dramatically since Freddy broke into the pro ranks back in the days of ESPN and beer-company sponsorships, he rejects the notion that he’s been robbed of a more lucrative career. “I wake up and walk out of my lakefront house and think, ‘I can’t believe water skiing has given me all this.’ I choose to look at what I’ve been given instead of what I ‘should’ have been given.”
With jumping, it’s not if you’ll get hurt, it’s when and how bad.
Soon to be 42, Freddy is aware that he won’t be able to keep this going forever. When the time does come to call it quits, he’s hoping the R&D consulting work he’s done for several industry manufacturers leads to opportunities to stay professionally involved in the sport. But that time hasn’t come yet, and, in fact, he likes his chances heading into the 2017 season. “I feel better than I have in a while, and I don’t have any plans to skip anything. If someone has the time and money to put on an event, I’ll be there.”