‘Where I am supposed to be’
Mesa Nordic skier Malmquist thrilled to be a member Team USA for international event
Emma Malmquist was excited when the much-anticipated package arrived.
The red, white and blue bundle left the Colorado Mesa student-athlete filled with pride.
Malmquist will be a member of the USA Nordic ski team when she travels to the World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, later this month.
Opening the package that held her Team USA uniform was a thrill for Malmquist, whose love of Nordic skiing took hold not too long ago.
“I am honored to be able to represent Colorado Mesa University on the international stage,” she said.
Malmquist is only one of seven Nordic women skiers who will compete in the games known as the Winter Universiade — the second largest multi-sport event behind the Olympic Games.
Malmquist, 21, has been one of the best Nordic competitors on the CMU team for the past two years. Last year, she earned All-American status with her eighth-place finish in the skate race at Lake Placid, New York, during nationals. That finish put her on the radar as a candidate for the Kazakhstan trip.
“I’ve always wanted to compete internationally, so this opportunity was a dream come true for me,” she said.
Achieving All-American status was special for Malmquist.
“Becoming an All-American for skiing had a very special meaning to me. This award validated my choice to leave soccer behind,” she said.
From hot to cold
Walking away from the soccer pitch wasn’t an easy decision for the Bend, Oregon, woman. She started playing soccer when she was 9 and was skilled enough to be part of the Oregon Olympic Developmental Program team.
It took a sweltering day on the field to push her 100 percent into Nordic skiing.
“I decided Nordic was the sport for me during a 110-degree soccer practice during my freshman year at California Baptist University,” she said.
The decision to leave soccer for skiing was probably a shock to her dad, who got her involved in skiing when she was 10.
“Honestly, I was not a fan at first,” she said. “I began downhill skiing when I was 7 years old, so when I was expected to go up the hills, I thought ‘why does anyone think this is fun?’ I knew it was important to my dad, so I was happy to give it a try.”
Crossing the finish line first in her third race convinced Malmquist the sport wasn’t all bad.
At first, she used skiing as a way to stay in shape for soccer, but she kept improving on skis — including finishing in the top 25 at the Junior Nationals her senior year in high school.
“The two sports competed for my time,” she said. “I was excited that I had earned a soccer scholarship like I always dreamed of, but something didn’t feel right. After my first week of (college) soccer in California, I realized I didn’t enjoy soccer at all anymore.”
Then her Nordic skiing club coach suggested Colorado Mesa.
“I met (CMU coach) Dave (Aschwanden) and the team, and immediately knew this is where I belong,” she said. “It was the scariest but most rewarding decisions I have made.”
The exercise science major is the captain of the Mavericks’ Nordic team.
“I enjoy encouraging people. My favorite part is experiencing my teammates grow each year,” she said. “This team has an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Aschwanden said Malmquist is a great captain for the team and is always supportive of all her teammates.
The Mavs will be cheering from afar for their captain, who will depart for Kazakhstan on Tuesday for the games that last from Saturday through Feb. 5.
But she will be back in time to compete for Colorado Mesa at nationals in early March.
She will also be going home when the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association National Championships arrive.
For Malmquist, there will be even more excitement and expectation this year since nationals will be in her hometown of Bend. In addition to going home, Malmquist hopes to improve on her eighth-place finish from last season — which she accomplished despite battling a lung infection.
“I can’t wait to compete at home,” she said. “I’m a strong climber, and Mount Bachelor has some monstrous hills. I am looking forward to racing on the trails I grew up on.”
It was on those trails where she fell in love with the skiing and put her on the path of leaving soccer behind.
On the eve of her first international ski competition, Malmquist can look back with no regrets on giving up soccer, especially after earning All-American honors last year on skis.
“That was exactly what I needed to prove to myself, that I’m a talented skier,” she said. “I never found this kind of success in soccer. I am passionate about skiing and have fun every time I am on the trails. This is where I am supposed to be.”