DECATUR – Freddy Krueger, the world's No. 1 professional water ski jump champion who was born and grew up in Decatur, has never slashed anyone to pieces in their dreams while wearing a leather glove with knife blades for fingers.
Having said all that, however, sharing a name with the lead villain from the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” horror movie series has always made a nice splash when it comes to publicity.
“From the standpoint of when I am traveling around the world to compete, being the guy with that funny name means I am a fan favorite before I've even gotten off the plane,” Krueger said.
And being a five-time ski jump world champion and being the current world record holder, with a distance of 250 feet, doesn't hurt either.
“You put that name with the performances, and there is no question it's helped me over the years,” said Krueger, 40, who lives in Winter Garden, Fla., with his wife Karen Truelove Krueger, a top professional slalom water skiier, and their sons Dash, 6, and 16-month-old Ridge. “People always remember my name.”
They are going to remember it again on Aug. 8, when Krueger, whose working nickname is “The Nightmare on Jump Street,” attempts a record “ski flight” of more than 300 feet on national television.
His big sponsor is the MasterCraft boat company, and his jump is part of the entertainment lineup during the “MasterCraft Throwdown” pro wakeboarding event in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ski flying is a modified form of ski jumping involving faster boats, longer tow ropes and longer ramps and much faster speeds.
“We'll be using a 600-horsepower boat, and it will accelerate well up over 50 mph as I am flying through the air,” said Krueger who builds his own speed before the jump by “cracking the whip,” criss-crossing behind the boat in the run-up to the big jump.
“I'll be up a little over 80 mph,” he added as he anticipates jumping the length of a football field. “Is it dangerous? Yeah, it's dangerous. It's a contact sport for sure.”
Luckily, he's got a pit crew that includes seasoned advisers he can trust. Those advisers also happen to be his parents, Fred and Rose Krueger, who will travel from their home in Tower Hill to help out and cheer him on.
Fred Krueger, a retired sports teacher from Eisenhower High School where his son graduated, will be carefully checking over the jump course and ramp positioning to make sure everything is lined up perfectly.
Krueger has the seasoned expertise even a world champion has lerned to trust. Along with his wife, he introduced his son to water skiiing when he was 3 and was teaching him to jump by 6. the Kruegers were one of seven charter families who created the PITS Club – People Involved in Tournament Skiing – in a mini lake nestled in the shadow of Interstate 72 on Decatur's western edge.
The club recently hosted the Illinois State Championships, and this is where the young Freddy Krueger and his older sisters Lori Covington and Julie Krueger, both champion skiiers in their own right, learned the sport.
Their parents, she is 71 and he is 74, still water ski, and Mom even skis competitively, but she will avert her eyes as her youngest child zips towards the ramp to attempt that massive 300-foot-plus ski flight.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said Rose Krueger, who will also try to block out the sounds as her son hits the ramp for the jump. “What I'll do is watch him,” she added, indicating her husband. “I'll watch his reaction, and he will say whether it's OK.”
Fred Krueger said his experienced eye will know his son is going to have a safe flight, or not, the instant he leaves the ramp. “I've seen enough of it, 45 years of it, and I can tell at that moment,” said Krueger. I'll tell his mother, and then she can watch him land.”
Rose Krueger will be happy from that point on, and happier still if her amazing son suddenly turned around and announced, record in hand, that he was going to retire from the sport.
Freddy Krueger said he does realize that nothing is forever, and he's now going head to head with rivals close to half his age. But the athlete who splashed his way to the top of the world isn't ready to role the final credits on The Nightmare on Jump Street just yet.
He traces his longevity and staying power to a solid Central Illinois upbringing that taught him to thrive on challenge and to trust and rely on himself.
“You've heard the expression, 'You can do anything you put your mind to'? Well, honestly, I think I am living proof of that,” he said.