Olympic skier Holly Brooks counts the days to Sochi, adds up ways that her Alaska Pacific teammates are pursuing degrees

Reese Hanneman-4215In between single-leg squats and VO2 max testing, APU grad student Holly Brooks got to thinking: “The APU Nordic Ski Center is in the headlines quite a bit….”

A member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team, Brooks is training this summer with Alaska Pacific skiers as they count the days to the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Several Alaska Pacific skiers, including Brooks, are among contenders for a slot on the U.S. Olympic team, scheduled to be announced in December.

“Needless to say I’m proud of our team,” Brooks writes in her blog.

Then she began adding up APU Nordic Ski Center season accomplishments:

  • Three members of the women’s cross-country U.S. Ski Team are skiing for APU and earning degrees here. Sadie Bjornsen is a full-time undergraduate in Business Administration and Management. World Cup sprint champion Kikkan Randall is a few semesters away from her business degree. Brooks is master’s student with her eye on a degree in counseling psychology.
  • Alaska Pacific was named the top-performing club in the country by the National Nordic Foundation.
  • Skiers training with the Alaska Pacific Junior Program won overall at the 2013 Junior Nationals held in Fairbanks.
  • Alaska Pacific Head Coach Erik Flora, who guided three team members to World Cup podium finishes, was named top coach in the country by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Flora’s recognition marks the first time the honor has gone to a cross-country coach.

IMG_7939“I realized that in addition to its amazing ski program, APU is giving us the opportunity for a great education. We skiers are part of the “U” in Alaska Pacific University,” Brooks writes. She offers a few profiles of student-athlete teammates:

Skiing with Alaska Pacific’s community-based team since he was 12, Thomas O’Harra is the defending J1 boys National Sprint Champion. He’ll attend APU in the fall in the Early Honors dual-enrollment program for advanced high school seniors. Brooks writes: “Thomas will challenge himself academically and athletically. As a member of the Nordic Ski Center’s University Team, he’ll gain exposure to the elite team. He sees Early Honors at APU as a way to up his game.”

Sadie Bjornsen is heading into her senior year in APU’s business program, where her concentration is nonprofit management and accounting. “Being a full-time athlete and a full-time student is a quite a test. Sadie makes it look easy!” Brooks says. “She attends online classes from Europe, training camp or wherever she may be.” Because APU online classes usually are in the evenings, Alaska time, Sadie finds herself up at 5 a.m. to attend class when she’s competing in central Europe. Brooks writes: “On World Cup race days, Sadie usually gets a pass but otherwise, she’s up and studying.”

Originally from Homer, Erika Klaar, ’13 magna cum laude, Business Administration and Management, served as a volunteer coach for NANA Nordic, an outreach program in western Alaska that has taught hundreds of schoolchildren to cross-country ski. The program was started by APU student and Olympian Lars Flora. “While at APU, Erika started a business,” Brooks writes. “E’Klaar makes hats, headbands and lots more. What started as a small project at Erika’s sewing machine has turned into a successful business, with help from her business classes.”

Don Haering, ’13, Environmental Science, joined the APU Nordic Ski Center when he was an Anchorage ninth grader and raced for APU before channeling his skill into coaching, ski-flying and general adventuring in Alaska. Brooks writes: “Don is working this summer at our summer glacier training center to learn about remote systems and glaciology, among other things, and plans to apply to medical school next year. He’ll have awesome letters of recommendation from his professors – all of whom know him well because of APU’s small class sizes.

IMG_6672“Everyone knows about Kikkan Randall the World Cup Sprint Crystal Globe winner,” Brooks writes. “But what about Kikkan the APU student who’s close to earning her business degree? Although school is temporarily on hold while she competes internationally, Kikkan says that APU business classes are helping her as a self-employed World Cup skier. She plans to finish her degree in 2015.

“And there’s me, Holly. In addition to having been a full-time APU staff member, these days I’m a student, enrolled in the Master of Arts Program and eventually hoping to earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology from APU. I take one class at a time. So far it’s been a blend of independent study and classroom courses. APU faculty are willing to work with my unique schedule. To me, that’s the essence of an APU education. Learning is done collaboratively. If there’s something you want to learn or do, it can be done.”

APU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and is Alaska’s only four-year, private baccalaureate liberal arts university.

Follow Alaska Pacific athletes as they ski their way to competition at Sochi: https://www.facebook.com/pages/APU-Nordic-Ski-Team/322534245843

Read more about Holly Brooks and her Olympic journey on her blog at: http://hollyskis.blogspot.com/