By Andrew Yourell, Sports Editor
For most students in the United States, high school graduation marks the end of athletics. A small percentage have the opportunity to continue competing in the NCAA ranks, but even for those with the talent to compete collegiality, the dream typically ends four or five years later.
Only the supremely talented—and hardworking—are able to play a professional sport. For Nordic skier Annika Taylor, this year’s improvements have made professional skiing a viable opportunity, and the graduating senior will continue her career with the British National Team.
“I’ll be leaving in May, just pretty much after graduation to go,” Taylor said. “I ski in Scotland, and then get some on-snow time in Norway, and then pursue full-time skiing, pretty much starting in October for the race season.”
Taylor is a senior chemistry major at UNH, who has compiled an impressive career as a Wildcat. In March, Taylor competed in the NCAA Skiing Championships at Lake Placid, New York. She raced to a seventh-place finish in the 15-kilometer classic. The mark earned her All-American status, and she was the second American finisher in the event.
“That was a goal for my four years here. I didn’t know if it was attainable,” Taylor said of her All-American status. “It was a great feeling to become an All-American.”
She then laughed, adding “You feel pretty darn accomplished after that.”
Accomplishments have not been in short supply for the senior during her four years at UNH. Last year, Taylor spent time in the United Kingdom—where she holds dual citizenship—to compete in a U23 league and to gain international experience.
Skiing full-time will mean a big increase in training time for Taylor, who expects her training time to increase by close to 100 hours per year, to around 800 total. With no school to worry about, the plan will likely be to do more double sessions.
But Taylor has big plans for what little free time she may have next year. In addition to being a highly-decorated skier, the Truckee, California, native has also put together an impressive performance in the classroom. Taylor is a two-time inductee into the National College Athletic Honor Society, Chi Sigma Alpha and a four-time National Collegiate All-Academic Ski Team member. Her academic prowess opens a number of doors for Taylor. One option she’s considered is studying to become a physician’s assistant while she continues her skiing, with the huge bonus of free graduate school in Scotland as a British citizen.
Taylor’s interests outside of skiing are not only limited to academia. One of the things she discussed passionately was a desire to help bring skiing to young girls in Scotland while she’s there.
One of the major hurdles Taylor faces is financing. Nordic skiing is a major sport in several European countries, but in the UK and the US, the sport is not widely popular. Unlike major sports, Taylor will not sign a lucrative contract when she becomes a professional.
“I need to find sponsors, and kind of pursue that avenue,” she admitted. “Nordic skiing’s just a small sport compared to, you know, hockey and football. So it’s harder to find sponsors.”
She has a plan to approach local hospitals and businesses in her hometown, and has already contemplated what they may ask of her, forming her own mini-public relations firm around herself.
Taylor is looking forward to the challenge that pro skiing will provide.
“It’ll become my life, but that’s good. ”
Taylor has made sure to set high goals for herself. In the short term, she says, she’s focusing on making it to her first World Cup race in Kuusamo, Finland, in November. After that, the long-term goal is to earn a spot in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea in Pyonchang.
“I think right now I’m still seeing the gains I need to be seeing to justify doing it,” Taylor said.
One of the big differences next year will be the coaching. For the last four years, Taylor has worked with ski coordinator and head Nordic coach Cory Schwartz. Next year will be his 28th year at the helm in Durham, and his 34th as the Nordic coach. For Taylor in Scotland, that means a new head coach, named Roy Young. Taylor, at this point, is not sure what the coaching change means for her.
“I know that Cory [Schwartz] and I have a great relationship, and that took four years to build, so, I think it’s going to take similar time to build with a new coach,” she said. “It’s hard to just drop a coach that you’ve put so much time in, and vice versa.”
While a lot is in the air for Taylor, there is one thing that she’s sure of.
“If I can figure out a good balance I think skiing is still a lifelong sport for me. So at least three years, if not more, if that’s what happens.”