As the Seawolves’ skiing season came to an end, freshman Hailey Swirbul proved to be the highest performer of the final national meet, as well as, a standout performer throughout the duration of the season.
The El Jebel, Colorado native came to UAA for the first time in the difficult period of time where the future of the ski team remained unknown, but, despite that, the Nordic standout exceeded expectations.
Before coming to Alaska, Swirbul became a back-to-back Junior Distance National Champion, as well as, managing to qualify and compete in the World Junior Championships in 2016.
Swirbu competed in the World Junior Championships again this year during her collegiate season.
“The best part of the season for me was actually off of the collegiate circuit. I raced as part of a relay team at World Junior Championships and earned third place. This was the first time in history that the US has earned a relay medal at WJ’s,” Swirbul said.
However, skiing hasn’t always been Swirbul’s primary sport. She only added the skiing into her routine as cross training for mountain bike racing. Both she and her brother trained together for bike racing until transitioning to skiing.
Not only was skiing not her first sport, but Nordic wasn’t even the first type of skiing she incorporated into her life.
“My brother and I switched from freestyle skiing to Nordic skiing to keep our fitness high through the winter for biking,” Swirbul said.
Ever since then, Swirbul has participated competitively in nordic skiing, and has gone to great lengths and made great accomplishments. However, just like an college athlete, she noticed the extensive changes that occur in collegiate competition.
“Many of the people racing in the [Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association] are from Europe, and are years older than I am, so the level of competition is higher. It is interesting to hear different languages at all the race venues, like Norwegian, Estonian, Italian, etc.” Swirbul said.
This observation is unique to not only collegiate skiing, but also at UAA. Throughout the United States, many college-level skiers come from Europe primarily due to the extensive early-training skiers receive there. For UAA, many of the ski team members, as well as athletes from other teams, come to Alaska for the ample opportunities it offers.
On the ski team alone, Swirbul is joined by 13 athletes from other countries, an impressive amount of the total 22 on the team.
Even with such a diverse and supportive team, Swirbul had to overcome several obstacles for her first season. To no surprise, she had to deal with some chronic foot injuries: an extremely common injury for freshmen to experience injuries during their first year in any collegiate sport, primarily due to the change of training.
“I had to cut holes in all my boots! That was the only solution to relieve the pressure from my heels and ankle bones,” Swirbul said.
Despite that, Swirbul managed to consistently compete and do well all season. In addition, she managed to stay on top of a full course load as a civil engineering major.
Swribul knows that eventually, competitive skiing will end and a career will begin. Fortunately, she has so far enjoyed her courses specific to her major. Not only that, but she has high goals set for the future.
“After graduating, I would like to focus more on structural and transportation engineering projects in Alaska, but I am not sure where I would like to go with it specifically,” Swirbul said.
With the positive news of the ski team not being cut for the future, Swirbul will enjoy three more seasons of eligibility to compete for UAA, but until next year’s season, she has time to focus on her course work until the end of the 2016-17 school year.