Weekend Interview: From McDonald’s to PyeongChang - how the Summerhayes sisters took different routes to the Winter Olympics

Molly, left, and Katie Summerhayes (Picture: Team GB)
Molly, left, and Katie Summerhayes (Picture: Team GB)
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The year of their appearance together at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang began at the local McDonald’s restaurant for the Summerhayes sisters of Sheffield.

Molly, 20, was working there, having volunteered for the New Year’s Eve all-nighter – the gravest of graveyard shifts few people her age would ever put their hand up for.

Katie, 22, was there, she confesses, to mock her sister, though it is safe to assume that the bond between them is so strong that the elder sibling had pitched up to keep her younger sister company as 2017 became 2018.

Fast-forward just five weeks and the Summerhayes girls will depart London next week for South Korea and the pinnacle of any young athlete’s career, the chance to represent their country at an Olympic Games, which begin on Friday.

The paths these two freestyle skiers from Sheffield have taken to this point have been similar in origin, even if a few forks in the road have seen them drift apart before reconverging in PyeongChang.

Both learnt the sport at the dry ski slopes in Sheffield, developing an unwavering passion for freestyle skiing among a group of like-minded adrenalin-junkies at the Sharks Ski Club, and a talent for it on the artifical halfpipe that was unique on British slopes.

Great Britain's Katie Summerhayes following her second run in the Ladies Ski Slopestyle Final during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Great Britain's Katie Summerhayes following her second run in the Ladies Ski Slopestyle Final during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Both travelled Europe as teenagers on the back of their parents’ support before Katie’s career accelerated under the umbrella of UK Sport funding and sponsorship.

She made her Olympic debut in Sochi, finishing seventh as skiing slopestyle – a downhill run which rewards competitors for the difficulty and execution of jumps and tricks off a range of obstacles – made an exciting introduction to the Olympic programme.

Molly’s journey has been tougher. No funding from UK Sport, allied with little or no sponsorship, means that when not competing across the world, she finances her career and her Olympic bid in the skiing halfpipe by flipping burgers and serving Big Macs at the local McDonald’s. Not that she begrudges having to do so.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job,” says the younger Summerhayes with a smile.

We still race each other up the stairs.

Molly Summerhayes on her sibling rivalry

“McDonald’s have been fantastic with me. They give me all the time off I need and are really supportive.

“My friends used to come in and laugh at me, but I’m all right with that.

“I even worked the New Year’s Eve overnighter. So I was at work when it turned 2018. Katie came in trying to show me up.

“A lot of my friends and colleagues have got an interest in what I do, asking if I’ve qualified for the Olympics so it was nice going in the day after selection telling them I’ve made it.

“To them, I’m just a friend who works at McDonald’s, so to know someone going to the Olympics has got them really excited and it’s made me even more excited as well.”

Such is her enthusiasm for the job that even a successful Olympics which might finally secure her a slice of the funding pie would not tempt her to quit the day job.

Because a taste of life on the athlete’s breadline has given Molly a greater appreciation of what she has accomplished.

“It has been quite difficult without funding, I won’t lie,” says the 2015 junior world champion. “But I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it.

“I like going to work, it’s a nice break when I come back from a trip, I get to see all my friends and I couldn’t imagine not working now. I know things have been tougher for me because of that, but I know that other people even with funding still struggle with money.”

Not that Katie has had it all her own way. Money may not have been a problem, but that other intangible – injury – has kept her progress in check.

In 2014, she arrived in Sochi having undergone two operations on a knee injury and faced a race against time to make it to the Games. Seventh place in the final, therefore, represented a huge success.

Four years and a world championship silver medal later, and injury again has blighted her build-up.

“I’ve not been injured for four years and now I’ve been injured twice before the Olympics,” says Katie, who did not ski for six weeks as she rehabilitated an ankle injury. “It’s frustrating but I’m working as hard as I can. I didn’t really have time to get down about it.”

The chance to represent Team GB alongside one another proved a huge incentive for both in the race for selection; for Katie as she battled injury, and for Molly as she scraped the funds together to keep her qualification hopes alive.

“To have Molly with me this time is great. I love that we’ll be able to support each other,” says Katie. “I told Molly all about the experiences I had last time and it’s fantastic that she now gets to live it with me. I’ve just told her to take as much from the experience as she can.”

“Watching Katie in Sochi,” continues Molly, “made me realise how much I wanted to go to an Olympics.

“I wasn’t competing at the World Cup circuit at that stage but seeing her there, the experiences she got, made me realise how much I wanted it.

“For it to have become a reality for us both is amazing.”

That they are not competing against each other is a blessing.

Competitive as any siblings are – “We still race each other up the stairs,” laughs Molly – they know they can concentrate on their own event before fully supporting the other in their chosen discipline.

Katie contests slopestyle on the second weekend of the Games, with Molly on the halfpipe two days later.

“I used to do both but because I tore my ACL before Sochi, I had to focus on one event, and that was slopestyle,” says Katie.

Molly adds: “I travelled around Europe competing in all the slopestyle events when I was 15, 16 and at the last event it was halfpipe and afterwards I rang my Dad and said: ‘I think halfpipe is what I want to compete in’.

“I thought he’d be mad, but he said it’s still skiing and whatever you want we’ll support you.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without our mum and dad.”

That support has been crucial, for both girls.

Richard Summerhayes and his wife will not be in PyeongChang because of the cost of flying themselves out there.

Instead, they will have to make do with staying up until 1am to watch it on the television.

“We could not be prouder of the pair of them,” says Richard.

“They deserve this opporunity because of the hard work they have put in and it’s nice to know that they’re out there together, looking after each other.”

Even if that means doing so from separate rooms.

“We’ve asked not to share a room because we bicker too much,” laughs Katie.

“We could go months on end without seeing each other then we’ll be together for one week doing one competition and by the end of the week we’ll be sick of each other and ready to go our separate ways again.

“We’ll still be close but not in the same room – we’re happy with that.”