New London family of seven spends their summers on Little Crow Ski Team
NEW LONDON - With four brothers, 13-year-old Sara Thein has a little experience holding her own. It's not surprising that she's translated her take-no-nonsense attitude to one of her favorite sports: water skiing.
Every Friday, Sara can be found topping pyramids, doing strap doubles and performing in ballet lines as part of the Little Crow Ski Team, based at New London's Neer Park.
But her family doesn't let her have all the fun. In one way or another, all seven Theins, right down to 6-year-old Jack, participate on the team, as skiers, comedy skit actors or even concession stand workers.
Being on the ski team is a family activity they can all enjoy together, the family says.
"I actually think they get along best on the water," said mother of the clan, Nikki Thein, with a laugh. "For this big of a family, it's one of a few things we can all do together and enjoy."
The Theins have a long history with Little Crow. Nikki's husband, Matt Thein, joined the ski team 18 years ago, in 1995. In 1998, he helped the team win its second national tournament title in Hamilton, Ohio.
"That was a neat experience; it really was," Matt Thein said of skiing at nationals.
Then, in 2005, Matt began helping Nikki's oldest son, Peter, 18, learn to top barefoot pyramids. In 2007, younger brother Nate, 13, followed in his footsteps, and his twin sister Sara joined the team in 2010.
Now, even the younger siblings have a role on the team. Eleven-year-old Timmy practices his skiing on Monday nights with Little Crow's developmental team, skis in the Friday pre-show and performs in the comedy sketches between skiing acts. Jack, 6, also helps with the comedy shows and cheers on his parents and older siblings from the sidelines.
"I like watching barefoot pyramids and around the boat," said Jack, who's not quite ready to start skiing himself yet.
Nikki Thein has skied and driven boats in past seasons, but took this year off to manage the concession stand and fill in other places as needed.
During the summers, the Theins can usually be found on the water, practicing their skills. Each week, the family attends practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as some optional Monday skill-building practices. In addition, they spend about 10 hours practicing at home together each week.
"Some of the tricks take hours and hours of dedicated time to learn," Nikki Thein said. "We practice at home, but I wouldn't really call it practice. My kids love to ski, and it's fun for all of us."
That practice pays off. With average show audiences ranging from 500 to 1,000 people each Friday, the children have learned to deal with high-pressure situations at young ages.
"Sometimes I do get nervous at first," Sara said. "But when you do well, it makes you feel really confident. When people are cheering for you, that's a good feeling."
The Theins aren't the only family who skis together on the Little Crow team. Many husbands, wives and siblings participate together. Regardless of family connections, by the end of the summer, everyone on the team is usually one big family, Nikki Thein said.
"You really develop friendships there," she said. "Everyone on the team takes care of each other. There's a lot of camaraderie there."
Those friendships, and the fact that he can ski with his whole family, are just a few reasons that Timmy will continue skiing on the Little Crow Ski Team -- probably for many years to come.
"I've made a lot of friends on the team," Timmy said. "It's really fun to ski with my family too. I just love it. I don't know who I'd be without skiing."
See a Little Crow Ski show
Little Crow Ski shows take place every Friday at 7:30 p.m. through the end of August. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children. Shows are held at Neer Park in New London. The theme for this year's show is "Little Crow's Wild, Wild West." For more information, visit littlecrow.com.