After only one year of collegiate racing, UAA Nordic skier Hailey Swirbul traveled to Switzerland in late January to participate in the FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships Jan. 30 through Feb. 1.
The Colorado local came to Alaska in 2016 to begin her degree in civil engineering and join the UAA ski team. Swirbul fit into the skiing community Anchorage beholds and used it to her advantage to earn all but one top-20 finished in the six meets she competed in during the 2016-17 season.
“I have been skiing competitively since fifth grade. I began skiing as cross-training for mountain bike racing, which I have done my whole life,” Swirbul said. ”
Swirbul also competed last year in the World Junior Championships as part of a relay.
“That was the first time in history that the U.S. has earned a relay medal at WJ’s, and it was so awesome to be a part of that,” Swirbul said. “I’ve been fortunate to have some international racing experience under my belt, so I knew what I was getting into and the level of racing to be expected at World Juniors.”
Initially, there were 41 females in the Juniors and U23 groups who qualified and competed. Swirbul did not expect to do as well as she did in the beginning.
“The excitement from the result didn’t really hit me until later in the day. The interesting thing about interval start races is that you can never be sure what your result is until everyone has finished,” Swirbul said, “and I definitely did not expect to earn second.”
With a final time of 14 minutes and 13 seconds in the 5-kilometer race, Swirbul picked up her first medal for the competition with a second place finish. She was only 15 seconds behind the first place finisher, Polina Nekrasova from Russia. Swirbul kept a solid pace in second, with the third place finisher 11 seconds behind.
In addition to the 5-kilometer individual classic, Swirbul competed three days later in the skiathlon. This race consists of two separate 2.5-kilometer courses: one classic and one freestyle.
Along with 44 other women in the group, Swirbul took off in good spirits; halfway through the race she sat in twelfth place until pulling up to sixth when switching into the freestyle race. Swirbul battled through the other competitors to finish third, being out-sprinted and beat by only 0.70 seconds.
Swirbul finished the skiathlon with a time of 33 minutes and 31.9 seconds.
Swirbul said she owes her success in Switzerland to her long-term commitment to skiing.
“Ultimately, the ski training I’ve done for the past nine years has played into preparation for these races. All training builds on previous training, and all race experience helps you learn things to improve in future races,” Swirbul said.
After the finish of World Junior Championships, Swirbul will be on her way back the United States to continue her season at UAA.
“I hope to return to the U.S. healthy and feeling ready to race at NCAA championships. I’d like to earn all American there, and contribute to a good overall team score at the championships,” Swirbul said.
The NCAA Championships will take place March 7-10.