CHASING A NEW DREAM
CMU's Gregory has no regrets choosing school over Olympic skiing
Sarah Gregory lets the question soak in for a moment. She knows the answer, but it’s still difficult to say the words.
The 21-year-old Denver native will never compete in the Olympics.
Considering the reality carefully, she nods, and her smile disappears briefly.
“It definitely won’t happen. No, I will never be in the Olympics,” she says, forcing the smile back.
The smile seems to be ever-present on the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Colorado Mesa University skier. She’s energetic and talkative, at times bordering on bubbly.
At one time, skiing in the Olympics was her dream.
“I have some friends who will be on the ski team this year, and I plan to live vicariously through them and with them,” she says.
The Olympics is now a distant, impossible dream for Sarah Gregory. She is, however, one of the best United States Collegiate Ski Association skiers in the nation.
No Olympics is a resignation that doesn’t come easily, but she made a decision, and she’s comfortable with it.
“It’s definitely bittersweet to watch them,” she says about those Olympic skiers. “They are so dedicated to the sport, and I just kind of wanted to move on with my life and go to school.
“They are all so good, and they dedicate their lives to just skiing. That’s what it takes. I decided that school is a better path for me.”
She started skiing at 2, and was racing at age 6. By the time she was 12, she was hooked on ski racing.
Gregory is a two-time all-state high school skier who lived with a host family and went to Aspen for her senior year to get better coaching.
Today, she’s focusing on her major of exercise science, with the goal of becoming a physician’s assistant after college and grad school.
Last year, she surprised a region of high-level ski programs when she won two races and was ranked No. 2 in the region. Those victories earned her All-American status, but she wants more.
“I was number two overall in the region and I would like to be number one. That’s my main goal,” she says.
This year, she already racked up one win, two seconds and a third at three meets.
CMU ski coach Jack Harbottle said Gregory brings a tenacious mentality to the team.
“She’s calm (on the course), loves to ski race, she’s competitive, and she can really charge when she wants to,” he says.
The Mavericks practice at Powderhorn Mountain Resort and will host a meet Saturday and Sunday.
CMU competes in the Rocky Mountain Region with 10 other Colorado schools and the University of Wyoming. In collegiate alpine skiing, there are two disciplines: slalom and giant slalom.
Gregory competes in both disciplines for CMU. After a time when she was racing downhill courses and experiencing the adrenalin rush of zooming down a mountain at speeds of more than 80 mph, Gregory laughs and says, “I don’t do that anymore.”
Once, on the steep World Cup downhill course on Aspen Mountain, Gregory broke a ski, and the rest is a blur.
“I went flying into the net, and that’s when I hurt one of my shoulders,” she says.
Gregory said the injury was “kind of gross,” because she tore her labrum, and her shoulder was just flopping.
Choosing a field in the medical profession seems to be a natural path for Gregory because her ski career has landed her in the hospital on a number of occasions.
All of her injuries were painful, including both shoulders, but she says two were by far the worst: frostbite on her toes, so bad that they turned black; and bone spurs in her feet.
“It’s the most painful thing on the face of the planet,” she says about frostbite, cringing at the memory.
A close second in the pain category were the bone spurs, which required surgeries in the spring and fall of 2011. The spurs were the result of a rather interesting reality for high-caliber skiers — ski boots that are too tight.
Gregory smiles when she explains that a tight fit is mandatory for good skiing.
“You can tell and feel the way you’re skiing with the smaller boots,” she says. “Let me put it this way: I wear a size nine, and my ski boots were a size four.”
She forces a painful smile thinking about it.
After the surgeries, she made a switch, but it’s still a tight fit with the size six ski boot.
CMU is a high-desert college, which works against it being recognized as a ski school, but Gregory helped the program get some attention last year.
She would like more people on the CMU campus and around the region to recognize the college’s alpine ski program.
“I would like to get our team more out there,” she said. “Hopefully, after this year, they’ll know what ski racing is and how well our team is doing.”
She laughs when talking about how CMU is received by skiers from mountain colleges like the University of Colorado and others.
“They see us, and they’re like, ‘You have a ski team? Where do you ski?’ ” she said. “When they show up, they see that we can ski. They were really surprised last year.”
Harbottle said the overall team has an excellent shot at qualifying for regionals and nationals this year.
“When you have a really strong skier like Sarah, she’s a leader, but you have to have three (male and female) strong skiers, and we have that,” he said.
This season, the CMU alpine teams are charging toward regionals, which will take place in McCall, Idaho, and possibly toward Lake Placid, N.Y., for nationals.
Before that, Gregory will watch the U.S. Ski Team go for gold in the Olympics.
But she doesn’t have any regrets. She’s comfortable with her decision.
As a collegiate skier, she’s still competing and having fun on the slopes.
For Gregory, her boots and her ability seem to be the perfect fit for the CMU alpine ski team.