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Lakers' Lukkari excelling in a winter sports balancing act

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:21 AM

In one circle, he’s been an outstanding diver for the Lakers since he first stepped onto the board, having qualified for the Division 3 state meet as both a freshman and sophomore, and he’s strongly expected to return to the finals for a third time in early March.

“I’ve talked to (former Spring Lake dive coach) Dave Parsons, who coached diving here for years, and I asked him if we’ve ever had a diver qualify (for state) all four years. And he couldn’t think of one,” said current Spring Lake diving coach Tom Knight. “I’ve been coaching 7-8 years and he’s probably the second best kid I’ve had here.”

But for Lukkari, diving ranks a close second to his first love in winter sports — skiing.

His passion for skiing was obvious upon the completion of the Lakers’ swim and dive dual meet against Ludington at the Spring Lake Aquatic Center on Thursday.

Lukkari placed first with a score of 224.30, his fifth top finish of the year, which also qualified him for the Division 3 regional meet. He then bolted for home to embark on a nearly 16-hour drive to the city of Okemo, Vt., with his father, Gary. The city will play host to the Gatorade Free Flow Tour, beginning Saturday.

Lukkari, the son of Gary and Susan Lukkari, will compete in the 21-and-under Open Division slopestyle skiing competition at the event. If his past performances in the tour that features some of the top amateur skiers in the nation are any indication, Lukkari should fare quite well.

“I’m going to four (tour stops) this year,” he said. “I’ve already competed in two. The first one I went to was in Vail (Colo.) where I got second, which was pretty exciting, because there were like 50 kids there. It was a big meet. The next one was in Jackson Hole (Wyo.), where I believe I finished in the top 10.

“(The tour) has by far some of the best amateurs around,” Lukkari added. “Many go to as many stops as they can, so they’re really talented. A lot of them are from out west, so I’m kind of at a disadvantage being from Michigan.”

Ideally, Lukkari hopes to secure a first-place finish at the remaining Free Flow stops, which would help him possibly advance to the Winter Dew Tour, a showcase of top amateur and pro skiers. He’ll also compete at the Aspen/Snowmass (Colo.) Ski & Snowboard Open on Feb. 23-26, which will include some of the best up-and-coming competitors in the nation. Skiers at the event have the opportunity to compete on the same slopestyle course that hosts the Winter X Games.

Slopestyle skiing is performed on specially-made trails on ski mountains and are often referred to as terrain parks or jib parks. The goal in the sport is to perform the most difficult tricks while getting the highest amplitude off the jumps.

Lukkari said he’s always loved the aerial artistry that the sport demands and began downhill skiing around the age of 3.

“I started out pretty local, but I actually got to the national level through competing in Michigan,” Lukkari said. “In (the United States Ski and Snowboard Association), I competed in nationals three years ago and took one of the top spots in my age group. That was pretty exciting, because it helped me realize I could accomplish a lot more.”

The skills utilized in skiing correlate well over to diving, Lukkari said, especially balance, agility and awareness in the air.

“From a technical aspect, Erik is nailing it,” said Knight. “The key thing with him, he knows exactly where he is in the air on every single dive. For some that takes some time to master. It may take some kids all four years before they perfect that.

“I definitely credit skiing with the balance and twisting to helping him excel in diving. He’s a beautiful diver,” Knight added.

The selfish side of Knight says he wishes he could have Lukkari focus on diving 100 percent of the time during the winter, but realizes that can’t be the case.

Lukkari has missed three meets this season due to conflicts with skiing, as well as several practices. Lukkari considered dropping diving last year to focus solely on skiing, but Knight has agreed to work around his hectic schedule. Lukkari has always been drawn to the pool, however, and his older sister, Laura, was  an All-State swimmer for the Lakers. 

“His scores come down when he’s only on the board three days a week,” Knight said. “But he’s such a good kid, he gets good grades and he’s such a good diver. I hate to be the one to tell him he can’t do something that he loves.”

Knight is confident Lukkari could make some serious noise at this year’s state finals, backed by his tremendous showing at the Jan. 7 Rockford Invitational, where he placed second in a field of primarily Division 1 and 2 schools.

“He’s got a shot at top 16 at state and maybe even top 10,” Knight said.

“I’m just trying to work as hard as I can in practice, because it’s hard from missing quite a bit of time,” Lukkari said. “I’m just trying to push myself.”

Next fall, Lukkari will be a key returning defender on the Spring Lake soccer team — a squad that reached the Division 2 state finals last season. But as busy as his athletic plate is, skiing will continue to be the main course.

“I’m definitely thinking about going to college out west (for skiing), because that’s where the best opportunities are,” he said.

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