Basalt teen heading to int’l skiing competition
Hailey Swirbul is racing toward a goal, one fast stride of her cross-country skis at a time.
The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete and junior at Basalt High School will head to Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Sunday to compete for the U.S. on the World Junior Championship Team.
“I’ve been focusing on this since last January,” Swirbul said. “I made it my goal to qualify so I could wear some stars and stripes.”
Swirbul, 16, competes in the Rocky Mountain Nordic Series in Colorado during the winter as well as a handful of national races. She qualified for the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Michigan, earlier this month. Competitors younger than 20 years of age were ranked by their results in two of three races to determine who qualified for the worlds.
“I barely qualified. I didn’t have the best week of races in my career but I pushed through some ups and downs,” Swirbul said.
Qualifying for the World Junior Championship Team was an accomplishment in itself. Only six young men and six young women made the cut. Swirbul’s best result was third in the 5-kilometer classic race.
“That’s my favorite,” she said. “I’ve been doing it longer. I have more experience with classic. I feel like a lot of people embrace skating more than they do classic, so it kind of gives me a one-up.”
She also competed in the 10-kilometer skate and the classic sprint. In Kazakhstan, each athlete is guaranteed a spot in two races. The results will determine who qualifies for a four-member relay team. She will race the skiathalon, which features a 5-kilometer skate and a 5-kilometer classic, as well as the classic sprint, which could result in numerous heats around a 1.3-kilometer loop.
When asked if the sprint requires going all out for the entire time, Swirbul responded, “Oh, yeah. If you don’t hit a wall, you haven’t gone hard enough.”
Swirbul impresses everyone she meets with poise well beyond her years, genuine politeness and frequent smiles. She trains doggedly to attain and maintain her elite fitness level. She placed second in the class 3A cross-country championship for Basalt High School in the fall, although she was focused more on getting in shape for skiing. She got a lot of exposure to the outdoors from her parents, Brick and Rebecca Swirbul, caught the bug for Nordic skiing early on and it led to racing.
“This is my seventh year of racing, but I’ve been slogging around the trails with my dad for as long as I can remember,” Swirbul said.
Her summer base training features nearly 20 hours of exercise per week, including roller skiing, running and cycling. Her older brother Keegan, a 2014 Aspen High School graduate, is a professional road cyclist. “He’s a little too fast for me now,” she said.
In the fall, she switches to interval training and during winters she focuses on fine-tuning technique and fitness. Her coach is Maria Stuber. “I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today without her,” Swirbul said.
She works out at Basalt Fitness a couple times per week before school and doesn’t appear the slightest bit intimidated by the big lugs hanging out at the gym. Pound-for-pound she outworks everyone there in weightlifting and functional training. People who work out at Basalt Fitness in the morning are passing a hat to help raise funds for Swirbul’s trip to Kazakhstan.
“My family is paying my own way, but there is a nonprofit called the National Nordic Foundation that helps support athletes,” she said. Even with the aid, she still needs to raise about $2,500 for the trip. That will help cover travel expenses and trip fees, such as coaching, wax and lodging.
She set up a page on the online athlete-crowdfunding site Rally Me to accept donations. The address is https://ussa.rallyme.com/rallies/1354/swirbul_worldjuniors2015.
She isn’t allowed to have sponsorships and she cannot wear any type of logo while competing. Doing so would risk college eligibility.
Swirbul said her goal is to move up to the U.S. Development Team when she is old enough to qualify and eventually make the U.S. Ski Team’s Nordic A Team.
Next week’s international competition will be an important step in the process.
“It’s a milestone in a career,” she said. “It’s going to show me that next level of competition and what I need to do, what work I need to get there. Some of the kids there are going to be fresh off the World Cup, racing against the best in the world. I’m just excited to learn from them and see what they do.”
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Keegan Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia