U.S. National Ski, Snowboard Athletes Attend Westminster Luncheon
Salt Lake City, UT - The leadership of Salt Lake City's Westminster College had a chance recently to show its pride, hosting over a dozen U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding and other elite athletes for an end-of-the-school year luncheon. The athletes are part of a unique partnership with the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding which allows them to attend college while continuing to train for the Olympic Winter Games.
"I was so impressed with how dedicated these athletes are not only to their sport, but to their academic pursuits at Westminster College as well. Their incredible performances on the slopes are reflected in the classroom," said Westminster Vice President of Institiutional Advancement, Steve Morgan. "These are high achieving student athletes who average above a 3.6 GPA. These are very dedicated young men and women and we are so pleased to have them as a part of the Westminster College community."
Now in its fifth year, the Westminster partnership is having a strong impact in providing athletes with an opportunity to attend a highly-regarded comprehensive liberal arts college while training and competing. It has been especially beneficial to athletes who are now residents in Utah while working out at the new U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Center of Excellence in Park City, or utilizing Olympic legacy facilities like the Utah Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow.
The student athletes had an opportunity to mix with Westminster College leadership and especially to thank the university for its support. Nearly 60 team athletes have attended the college through the Westminster/USSA grant program tuition-free. The group has a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.65.
"It was great to meet more of the people who have been a part of our having the opportunity to pursue an education while competing and finishing up after retirement," said freestyle moguls skier Heather McPhie (Bozeman, Mont.), who is ranked number two in the world. "School is a really important part of my life, both for continued education, as well as keeping a balance in my career. I am a much better athlete when I have a more well-rounded focus on life. To meet, and get a chance to thank personally, a few of the people who have made this program possible for us, was really special for me. It is an amazing program and opportunity and I am extremely thankful for it.
"Taking classes there is incredibly easy to balance with my training schedule and it was amazing how simple it was to enroll. Westminster takes such great care of us on all levels and basically makes everything work for our needs," McPhie explained. "The luncheon was cool," said Olympic alpine ski racer Hailey Duke (Boise, Idaho). "Everyone who was there thanked the Westminster staff for everything they do for us. It was also incredible to see how many athletes from other sports are involved in the program."
Among those recognized by the athletes was Westminster's Deb Vickery, who has the challenging task of working out class schedules built around World Cup calendars and training camps that take hopscotch athletes around five continents 12 months a year.
Each athlete had an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about both their athletic background and academic goals, as well as thanking for Westminster staff for helping them juggle classes around a busy athletic schedule.
There was a special pride amongst the Westminster staff knowing that 14 of the student athletes were on the 2010 Olympic Team that competed in Vancouver – more than any other college in America.
"What an outstanding group of young men and women," said Westminster's Director of Corporate Relations, Safia Keller. "I was very impressed with their dedication to their athletic training, as well as their educational goals. They will definitely succeed in life in whatever career path they choose to pursue."
The luncheon also served as an opportunity for Westminster staff to get feedback from the student athletes.
"We talked about the positive sports psychological benefits that can come with taking a class while still a competitive athlete," said Willy Graves (Putney, Vt.), who recently retired from the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team. "As athletes, we discussed that many of us feel we are hyper focused on our athletic goals and that can become detrimental to skiing. Even one class while skiing can provide a little more diversity in our lives and actually improve athletic performance. I was really motivated by the excitement of the Westminster leadership on the program.
As one might expect, there's a wide range of educational interests in the athletes. World Aerials Champion Ryan St. Onge (Winter Park, Colo.), a finance major, talked about how Westminster has broadened his horizons. Nordic combined athletes Graves and Skyler Keate (Park City, Utah) recently retired but are now able to continue their studies full-time.
Ski jumpers Alissa Johnson and Avery Ardovino (both Park City, Utah) are especially excited to have the program close to their home while training. Johnson is looking at nursing while Ardovino wants to be a physical therapist. Olympic alpine skier Hailey Duke (Boise, Idaho) is interested in film and marketing, while her Olympic teammate Leanne Smith (N. Conway, N.H.) is in her third summer. Snowboarder Graham Watanabe (Ketchum, Idaho) is thinking about graphic design, while teammate Vic Wild (White Salmon, Wash.) ran into the luncheon from a physics class.