US Ski Team’s Hailey Swirbul: A letter to 10-year-old me and joining AVSC
Dear 10-year-old me: Do it. Join the AVSC Nordic program. I know you dreamed of floating through the moguls course like your brother, but you won’t regret joining the Nordic team, I promise.
When you skate ski for the first time at Thanksgiving camp, I wish you wouldn’t be embarrassed. You are going to struggle, you are going to wonder why on Earth you aren’t riding the chairlift to your next run on the slopes, you are going to be hundreds of meters behind everyone else with a single patient coach reminding you that you’re going to get through it.
And that’s OK. You don’t have to be the best at something in order to fall in love with it.
You will have to wake up at 5:15 a.m. before class in high school to get in your morning gym session. But it won’t be so bad. You will meet incredible mentors in your community, from the mayor to a professional bull rider, during the early hours of dawn at the gym. These people will take an interest in you and support you, and when you are in a time of need, will raise funds for you to travel to Kazakhstan to compete in your first World Junior Championships.
Be grateful, because you live in a network of caring, compassionate and supportive community members.
Suddenly, you won’t be skiing for only yourself anymore, you will be skiing for your community, for your country. Your fans will become your supporters and become an even more integral part of your journey.
You’re going to face difficult relationships with your body. When you learn about power-to-weight ratio and notice how lean World Cup athletes look, you are going to try diets and eat less to look a certain way with hopes it will make you a faster skier. At first, you will notice yourself achieving the physical results you had hoped for: thinner, more toned. But your immune system will suffer, you will get sick and injured, you will enjoy skiing less and train with lower quality when you do not feed your brain and body.
And worst, you will battle guilt if you eat something you decide is off limits. I wish you wouldn’t give into these thoughts. I wish you would be proud of your body, for it is the vessel that will carry you to two World Junior Championships medals one day. I wish you would seek outside help about your relationship with yourself and food earlier than you do.
Before you know it, you will be recruited to ski at various colleges, and you will be stressed trying to decide if you should go to school or take a gap year to ski. Education is important to you — don’t forget that — and you need another outlet in your life to take the pressure off of skiing. It’s OK to be stressed about which school to attend. It’s a big decision. Heck, cry if you need to (you will)! Then, let Alaska’s wild and vast landscapes lure you north. Don’t question that decision for another moment; you are going to love it there.
Your freshman year of college, you will earn third place in the relay event at the World Junior Championships in Midway, Utah, the first junior relay medal in the history of U.S. skiing, and the second medal of any kind. You will be on a team with three of your best friends whom you have raced against since you began skiing. It will feel euphoric! Let it motivate you and represent the potential that you and your country have in the future of Nordic skiing.
That potential? Believe in it. It will be this belief in yourself and your commitment to giving your best effort that will lead you to two individual World Junior Championships medals in Goms, Switzerland. You will become the most decorated junior skier in U.S. history. But more than the medals and congratulations, you will be proud that you have proven to young skiers following in your footsteps that they, too, can reach their goals if they focus on controlling what is in their power and believe in themselves.
Some days, you will want nothing more than to be a “normal kid.” But always overriding this feeling will be your love of Nordic skiing and the opportunities that it brings you. You will travel the world. You will meet incredible coaches, mentors and friends throughout the US and beyond. Ten-year-old me, you will not regret joining the AVSC Nordic program. Do it!
Hailey Swirbul is a 2016 Basalt High School graduate and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete who was named to the U.S. Nordic ski team for the 2018-19 season. For more on Swirbul, click here.
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