“He always had aspirations to compete, but didn’t start early enough,” says Tommy’s son, Rusty Hamrick. “He really wanted my sister and I to be able to do it on a professional level.” Rusty’s older sister Natalie adds, “He never pushed, either. He was the perfect mix of what you need to have a child be successful: patience, commitment, and diligence. The way he would light up when we would perform well—I remember that making me feel like a million.”
Natalie gave her old man plenty of times to light up. Over the years, the self-proclaimed family exhibitionist racked up no. 1 rankings in college and the world, as well as 15 professional and three World Cup titles. She was such a phenom as a teen, she left Christ Church High School a year before graduating to take early admission at a Florida college where she could train year round. She still remembers her point of no return at the Junior World Championships: “I won on a random lake in Mexico. The conditions were unpredictable. It was a stroke of luck. But once you get that kind of a buzz from a win, from that moment on, there was no turning back,” she says.
The irony is that although Natalie was older, baby brother Rusty was the first to ski. “I was not the most adventurous girl. I didn’t like getting my hair wet, I was terrified of snakes in the lake. But I kept thinking, if Rusty can do it, I can do it,” she chuckles. “I think my dad had me on skis when I was as young as five,” Rusty elaborates. “I did my first tournament when I was 10, maybe in Gray Court on Lake Martin.
I didn’t do terrible, but I don’t remember bringing home any trophies either.”
The baby of the family would earn trophies soon enough. He won nationals in slalom in 1997, and was ranked no. 1 in the world as a junior, as well. The Hamrick siblings spent summers training under the tutelage of the legendary Jack Travers in Florida, or competing across the Southeast, with mom Jan organizing the traveling squad from out of an RV. Natalie reflects upon both of her parents’ sacrifices. “Mom doesn’t ski, but she was the force behind it all. Dad never complained. There were days when it was raining and cold and he would still get behind the wheel of that boat to pull us.”
Rusty ended up attending the College of Charleston, which allowed him to train at Trophy Lakes on Johns Island, while Natalie studied and skied further south. She concentrated solely on slalom, while Rusty nailed the skiing trifecta: slalom, jumps, and tricks. His highest ranking as a professional was #27. “Jumping was really a thrill. It was an adrenaline rush,” he recalls. “You pull out as far as you could, make your turn, cross the wake and basically haul ass as fast as you could to jump going 60–70 miles per hour. It feels like you’re soaring through the air.”