Lydia Lassila is an Australian Olympic freestyle skier, who has competed in three Winter Olympics and won gold in the aerials at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver last year.
Winning gold came just five years after she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament and underwent a radical knee reconstruction. In case you are not familiar with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), rupturing the ACL sometimes spells the end of an elite athlete’s career. By the time their knee recovers from surgery, they are too old or out of condition to get back their previous level of fitness and skill.
However, Lydia was young, still in her early twenties, and determined to make a full recovery to competition fitness. So swift was her return that she was able to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. During the second round of the aerials competition, her knee collapsed on impact after a difficult landing. She was just one jump away from the gold medal when her knee gave way. Onlookers still remember her spine-chilling screams of agony.
Lydia vowed that she would return to ski-ing when her knee recovered again. She took inspiration from her team mates Jacqui Cooper and Alisa Camplin, who had both made come-backs after similar knee injuries. As well as her physical rehabilitation, she gained motivation from internationally renowned sports psychologist Dr Barbara Meyer.
Her time away from competition gave her the opportunity to marry her Finnish boyfriend, Lauri Lassila, a former professional freestyle ski-er whose career highlight was winning silver at the Freestyle World Championships in 1999. Lydia and Lauri were married in a Scandinavian castle in mid-2007. Before her marriage, Lydia’s surname was Ierodiaconou; her mother is Italian and her father Greek-Cypriot.
Sixteen months after re-injuring her knee, Lydia made her come-back at the World Cup in China, where she won silver, and won her first World Cup title the following year. As world number 1, the pressure was on her to succeed at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the beaming Lydia was soon dubbed “golden girl” for winning her medal.
She immediately took a year-long break from competition – this time so she and Lauri could start a family. Everything went to plan, and Lydia says she had a dream pregnancy, with no morning sickness, where she felt extremely healthy, and was able to exercise every day.
On Sunday May 8, which this year was the date of Mother’s Day, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, with his dad’s blonde hair and blue eyes. He caused his happy parents some consternation, because they had elected not to find out the sex so it would be a surprise; however for some reason they were convinced they were having a girl! This is the second celebrity couple this year to be sure they were having a girl but had a boy; the first was Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom. Lydia and Lauri had a nice long list of girl’s names, but no names for boys picked out.
In the end, they chose a thoroughly Scandinavian name for the blonde baby who Lydia calls her “little Viking”.
Kai is a boy’s name commonly used in Finland, where it means “probably”. This may be a case of an existing name coinciding with a word in a modern language, because Kai could be a short form of Caius, or Kaiser, or Nicolaas, or any number of names. It’s one of those useful and simple names that occur in many different cultures and languages, and all of them ascribe a positive meaning to it, so it’s a truly international name that can travel anywhere. It’s currently #85 in Lydia’s home state of Victoria, and February 16 is the name day for Kai in Finland.
Erik is even more recognisable as a Scandinavian name. It’s derived from the Old Norse name Eiríkr, and the first element ei either means “single, alone”, or “ever, eternal”. The second element ríkr either means “ruler, prince”, or “powerful, rich”. It’s therefore interpreted to mean “only ruler”, “eternal ruler”, “eternal power”, or something along those lines.
It’s a name that has been heavily used in the royal houses of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the most famous to us being Eiríkr Thorvaldsson, commonly known as Erik the Red. Exiled for three years from his home in Iceland after committing a few murders when neighbourhood disputes got slightly heated, Erik spent the time productively by exploring a little-known land mass to the west.
Showing good sales tactics, he decided to call this country “Greenland” in order to suggest it was rich and fertile; much as modern-day land developers name estates built on reclaimed swamp Gumnut Rise, to suggest it was once a hillside covered with trees, rather than the more accurate Muddy Flatland. To be fair, Greenland is green in bits, at certain times of the year.
When he returned home to Iceland, he spent the winter telling everyone about this fantastic place Greenland, to such good effect that he was able to persuade many people to become the first settlers in the new land. Whether it was quite as good as the brochures or not, the colonies eventually thrived, and Erik became head chieftain of Greenland, enjoying a wealth and respect he hadn’t attained in Iceland.
Erik remained a follower of Norse paganism all his life, but his son Leif Erikson was a convert to Christianity, and the first Viking to explore a country called Vinland, thought to be part of the west coast of Canada. Erik decided at the last moment not to accompany his children on the expedition to Vinland due to a bad omen that occurred on the way (falling off his horse), so he remained safely at home, where he shortly afterwards died in an epidemic brought over by some immigrants from Iceland. Maybe that’s what the omen was trying to tell him about, or perhaps it just means that when your time’s up, it’s up, whether you go or stay.
You may also know this name from Terry Jones’ movie Erik the Viking, starring Tim Robbins. It’s a Pythonesque satire on Viking life, and has nothing to do with Erik the Red, but it does help remind us that Erik is a Viking name.
I won’t pretend Kai and Erik are my favourite names ever (not that I don’t like them), but I am completely loving this name combination. It’s a fantastic way to give Kai a Finnish name that is also popular in Australia and doesn’t sound in the least out of place. I also think Kai Lassila just sounds perfect. A big thumbs up from me!