Keri Herman is not a Hollywood actress. She knows this because if she was, she would be able to lie about her age — and get away with it.
“I actually changed my age on Wikipedia,” Herman admitted. “I had my age down by four years for a long time, but then it got changed back.”
Her reasoning wasn’t for vanity. It was for survival.
Just before turning 30, the now 32-year-old Olympic slopestyle skier said, “Sponsors just started dropping me — preparing for me to age out of the game, rather than letting my skiing talk for itself.”
In college Herman majored in finance and marketing, and thought she would be working on Wall Street. Instead, at 21 years old she moved to Colorado where she learned how to ski for the first time.
Every year since she has consistently earned a spot on the podium. And for the past two years, the ski veteran — who placed 10th at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games when slopestyle made its Olympic debut — has been trying to survive with little to no sponsors to support her, all because she’s been deemed too old.
“I can remember the exact moment,” Herman said. “One of my sponsors compared me to an older athlete on the boys side and they were like, ‘Well, he quit skiing, so you’re probably going to do it too.’”
She remembered thinking at the time, “He was completely different than me. He was a party animal and he just kind of phased out.”
“The sponsor said they wanted to focus their team on younger athletes,” Herman continued. “So basically they’re saying I’m too old and washed up? And this was right before Sochi and right after I had just won a grand prix,” she said.
“Now they’ve signed all these little girls who haven’t done anything yet,” she said. “And it sucks, because I’m struggling to make it to these contests.”
Unlike the younger athletes, Herman has “adult problems.”
“I’m out on my own,” she said. “So I have to pay my mortgage. I have to pay all my bills myself. At least they can still live at home.”
And fortunately for the younger athletes, she said, “it is way easier to get a sponsor as a rookie. When I was new and fresh-faced, they just came to me. I didn’t even have to try.”
The established skier — who was one of the first women in the sport — hasn’t stopped trying, even if she gets injured in the process.
|Keri Herman takes second place during the Winter X Games women's slopestyle skiing on Jan. 24, 2015 in Aspen, Colo.
While competing at this year’s Winter X Games on Saturday, Herman took a hard fall on her final run and landed in the hospital with a concussion.
“I don’t remember anything,” she said about the race.
Not even the fact that she placed second, making that a total of five X Games medals for the only female skier to compete at every X Games where slopestyle skiing was included.
“I didn’t even know I won silver until they gave me my medal in the hospital.”
She scored just below 22-year-old Swedish freeskier Emma Dahlström and ahead of 20-year-old Dara Howell from Canada.
“It just goes to show that I’m at a point in my career where I am continuing to win contests and I should have sponsors who would be paying for my travel, getting me to contests, getting me photo shoots,” Herman said. “But for some reason that’s not the case for me anymore.”
As recently as last month, the Minnesota native won Dew Tour. But somehow she said that still didn’t change things.
“’I won Dew Tour,’ I would tell them. ‘But you’re 32,’ they said. So what? I just won Dew Tour! If I was 18 years old and won Dew Tour, I would have sponsors lining up. But I still couldn’t even sign a deal.”
Herman does have sponsors, but “I’m only paid by one. The others give me free skis and face warmers and stuff, which is great.” Occasionally, her accommodations are covered. Other than that, she has learned how to make a little go a long way, thanks in part to that college finance degree.
Any extra equipment or apparel she did own — including her official race vest from Sochi, along with clothes from the Opening and Closing Ceremony — she gave away at the end of last year in return for donations to her crowdfunding campaign.
“I had to,” Herman explained. “I’d rather ski than have that stuff.”
But she hopes all that will change now that she’s found an agent willing to take her on next season.
“I had to go out of the ski industry to find someone because no one in the industry would represent me,” she said.
But Herman says she’s not in it for the money.
“All of this has made me realize the person that I am, and I really do love skiing,” she said, noting her love for the sport as the reason she has stayed in it for so long.
“It’s not just about the material stuff. It’s not just about making money. It’s just fun. It makes me happy every single day and as long as it’s fun I’m going to keep doing this.”