What Motivates You
with Hailey Swirbul
14 Jun, 2022 · Cross Country Skiing
Olympian Hailey Swirbul, a professional cross country skier, shares her experiences with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Guest: Hailey Swirbul
“Reframing What Motivates You”
[00:00:00]Stef: This week on the Voice in Sport podcast, we are excited to speak with Olympian, Hailey Swirbul, a professional cross country skier member of Team USA, and of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic ski center. Hailey just came off the Olympics with an impressive sixth place finish in the four by five K relay.
She also has three podium finishes as a junior in 2017 and 2018, and a third place finish in the 2020 world cup hosted in Davo Switzerland. Today, we will dive into Hailey's journey in sport throughout her high school and collegiate career, and how she is learning to reframe what motivates her in sport.
Hailey opens up with us about the mental health challenges she had to overcome and how she eventually found the resources and support system. I love Hailey's openness and honesty about her journey. These are the types of conversations that encourage us to improve ourselves as athletes. And most importantly, as humans sharing our experiences will only help us build a stronger and more supportive community at Voice in Sport so that anyone knows that you are not alone.
Welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast, Hailey. We're so excited to have you here with us today.
[00:01:12]Hailey: Thanks. I'm super excited to be part of this community.
[00:01:15]Stef: I love it. Having more people that are here in Alaska with me on this podcast, it brings me so much joy to be elevating women that are part of this amazing, great state of Alaska. But you did not grow up here. So let's go back to the way beginning when you grew up in Colorado, tell us how you got into the sport of cross country skiing and was that your only sport at a really young age?
[00:01:41]Hailey: I loved all the sports as a kid. I did everything from ballet to mountain biking, soccer, softball, a little bit of swimming, even at a time. So I didn't get into cross country ski until I was 10. I started skiing because my family was really into mountain biking. So in the summers, we would travel as a family and camp at the venues basically, and do cross country mountain bike races throughout the state of Colorado.
When I was 10, my brother was 13 and. He decided that in order to stay fit for mountain biking, we needed to do something active during the winter, and cross country skiing fit the bill for that one. Before skiing in the winter time, both of us did like freestyle skiing type of stuff. So my brother was good at moguls and the park and the pipe, and I could do a spread Eagle off a jump, which isn't that impressive, but it was for me then.
So yeah, we switched over to cross country in the winter. Full-time that year.
[00:02:46]Stef: I love that. Well, as a proud mom, whose son just won gold medal at his first jump event last weekend, doing the spread Eagle, I can say it does qualify you in the jump competition at age six.
[00:03:01]Hailey: That's amazing. Yes.
[00:03:04]Stef: Oh, I love that you did so many different kinds of skiing when you were growing up. You know, you, you mentioned that you started racing at age 10. Did you have any specific role models that you looked up to at that age?
[00:03:17]Hailey: I think at that age, it was more seeing the high school athletes who are closer in age to me than someone who was on the US Ski team per se. I mean, that wasn't, even in my mind at that age, I was trying to have fun and build jumps on Nordic skis and would climb up the hill as fast as I could go down the jump again.
And I think that is super important way to just fall in love with the sport. But I do think that as I started racing that year and kind of realizing that I was on a steep learning curve, that I could get better at something, it felt really rewarding to just kind of focus on that rather than notice the role models around me.
[00:03:59]Stef: At what point did you start, like really seeing other women, you know, on the Olympic team and looking at what they were doing at what point did you start to see those skiers and, and how did that influence your own journey in sports?
[00:04:14]Hailey: That's a huge influence on my career is seeing the generation before me with skiers like Pekin and Rosie SAIDI, Jesse Sophie, Ida, the list goes on of like these really impactful, powerful women who are paving the way for my generation. I kind of noticed when I was about probably 13 or so, I'd been skiing for a couple of years and I kind of realized I'm getting pretty good at this like maybe one day I could go to the Olympics or maybe one day I could be on the US ski team and be on a team with all those amazing women. But, yeah, I think it took a couple years to really realize the impact of those role models and strive to be like that.
[00:05:02]Stef: Well now, you know, you are that role model for so many other young skiers. And it's a big reason why we built this platform at Voice in Sport. And we have amazing mentors like Rosie, you know, that spend their time talking to these younger girls and sharing their experiences. So hopefully they stick with the sport or just have a healthier, more joyous experience.
So now that you've won a world cup medal, and you're, you know, looking back at your 13 year old self, what would you like to whisper to her today?
[00:05:33]Hailey: I kind of want to dive into the idea of like the role models and mentorship and the community with this because when I was that age, I didn't have a great community around me of girls that also wanted to focus on skiing and want to get good at it and put the time and hours.
And so that immediate community was something that I actually really lacked growing up and really missed. I think with that, having that tight knit group or a group of like-minded girls around my age with me, I kind of struggled to find that sense of community with other girls around me.
And I learned a lot from my brother who, you know, I learned how to fit in with the boys around my age and joke around and, you know, do that kind of thing. But it took me a little while through college, even to kind of learn how to appreciate having that community and not see women around me as a threat to my results, and instead see them like a pyramid to help build each other up. So, it's taken me a long time to get there, but. really glad I have put in the work to kind of figure that stuff out on my end and really learn to appreciate having that community around me.
[00:06:53]Stef: Well, thank you for being so honest. I think that everybody struggles with that especially at a young age when you're like starting to get really competitive and you want to be your best and you're on a team sport, but you're not, it's an individual sport and there are some components of the team aspect that are so important, but it's hard to see that at the beginning of your years.
And I think as you get older and older, you realize how important it is to lift each other up. I think that is just such a strong and important message to send to younger girls out there. And that's at the heart of also why we built this community is how can we build this community, lift each other up, and that can be across different sports and across different levels.
So I appreciate you saying that. And, you know, your experiences was also interesting because at your high school or your middle school, they didn't have a ski team. So, when you were in those early years, your sport was a bit separated from your school. Did that make your training experience at a younger age more difficult, or did you feel like it was a good thing that they were separated.
[00:07:58]Hailey: I think it's a double edge sword, in some ways I, I can see the positives and the negatives to that situation, but yes, you're right. I was the only cross country skier at my school in both middle school and high school actually. So I would commute the 30 minute drive to my ski club, or I was on the team there. I think in many ways, because I was alone and I had to be so driven to get to where I was that created a lot of motivation for me and kind of wanting to prove to myself that I could do it or to others, or you conquer that challenge is kind of how my brain is wired. I think a lot of athletes brains are wired that way at the same time, it was lonely. Yeah. It was hard. It was hard to find the love of sport for a long time and find like the joy in aspects besides training without having like a group of like-minded girls around me that had similar interests.
I did on my team, I had a few key players that, you know, provided the, a little bit of sense of community up on my team that I skied with. But yeah, it was different. I think that's why my transition to college was difficult was to finally be thrown into a group with a ton of like-minded women and I have to kind of learn how to balance that and learn how to balance that socially and athletically and be a good teammate again.
[00:09:32]Stef: Yeah, let's, let's talk about that experience and that transition because a lot of the girls at the Voice in Sport community are either about to go through it, or they just went through it, or they're reflecting on their first year of college. So, after graduating from Basalt high school in 2016, you went on to race for the University of Anchorage, Alaska UAA for a couple of years, and then went to ski at APU.
So can you share with us just that, that first decision where you decided to move from Colorado to Alaska, which in it of itself is, you know, it's pretty big deal when somebody moves up here to go to a school in Alaska you know, how did you make that decision? And what advice would you have for other young girls that are trying to figure out what school to go.
[00:10:15]Hailey: Oh, that is such a great question. That was a stressful decision for me, for sure. I remember that I had narrowed it down to University of Vermont and the University of Alaska where my top two choices that I thought I could fit in well. I had visited the team. I liked the coaches and I thought both of the places were pretty cool.
So, I remember one night I was just in tears trying to decide, I was like, I don't know where to go. And I said, all right, that's it I'm choosing right now. I know it'll be okay. No matter where I go, it will end up being okay. And I just chased the sense of adventure coming to Alaska, because that sounded like something that not everyone gets an opportunity to do.
[00:11:01]Stef: That's incredible. Well, it's definitely adventurous up here. You have to have an adventurous mindset and you have to be adaptable, I think, to move and live up here in Alaska. So let's take that theme of adaptability and talk about how you did transition from kind of going to like more of a solo sport.
You know, not your sport wasn't attached to your high school. You didn't have as much of that community around you to a pretty structured environment, right. Coming into a division one athletic program. What was that transition like for you in terms of like, figuring out how to lean on your teammates and integrate in a way where you do. lift each other up.
[00:11:41]Hailey: Yeah, that's a great question. And if I'm being honest, I don't think I totally figured that out while I was on the team at UAA those two years. My first year there was so fun. I loved it. Like I had four other freshmen that came in with me that year on the girl's team. And we all connected, all had the same idea of what we wanted to do with our day.
And everyone was driven in school and in sport and it was awesome to just be thrown into that group. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time with other girls around me. I think at the end of my freshman year, I kind of started to butt heads with one of the girls on my team. And this was the first time I'd really been involved in any like drama, because I hadn't honestly, hadn't had that many experiences in that many close friends, either on my team back home or at school back home because I was gone so much and skiing so much.
Like I definitely had my core people at school and a few on my team too, but, It was hard to develop close friendships with people that had very different lifestyles and different goals. So being thrown into college was awesome in so many ways. I loved having the community and having people to train with and to push me.
And I totally recognize the value in that right away at the same time was really difficult to feel threatened for the first time, in a way. I was a skier that got pretty good, pretty fast when I was young and stayed near the top of my age group through most of my like high school and middle school racing career.
So, I lost the sense of what failure is, I guess, in a way. And I think that I mean on little bit of a tangent. Like my one piece of advice that I would give to my younger self is that it's not failure until you give up on something it's growth and it's practice. If you keep trying it and keep growing at something.
So once I had gotten thrown into college competing with my teammates and with a ton of other strong girls who are really good at skiing, like it was hard to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer like the dominant athlete there. So that was difficult for me.
[00:14:09]Stef: I think a lot of girls go through the same thing, right? They're the best in their city, the best in their state. And then all of a sudden they go and get thrown into an environment, and, you know, and when you think about the number of athletes that go on to play division one sports, it's very small, right. In terms of how many people are playing youth sports and are involved in youth sports. So you are in this like very small group of people, and then you, the sport of skiing is even smaller. I think that make it to that level because there's not as many programs. So I, I can really relate to what you're saying.
I bet the girls really relate. So what advice would you have for them in terms of the mindset that you wished you had when you were going in to those first two years at UAA?
[00:14:57]Hailey: I've really at this point in my life, I just love the idea of women supporting women and girls supporting girls because every single one of us is better if we have strong teammates and good people surrounding us. And I think that women and girls specifically have like a sense of nurturing and caring about one another. That's so deep, and so incredible to have, like, we're so lucky that we get to experience that as girls. And I wish that I had recognized that sooner and I wish I could've seen people around me as people wanting to help me and wanting to build me up and me wanting to do the same for them rather than feeling like I was threatened and afraid of being torn down and losing my spot and my top tier on the team. You know what I mean?
[00:15:51]Stef: Definitely. Well, now just imagine how many young girls are helping by having this conversation, you know, cause if you would have heard this probably going into your first year, maybe it would have at least put a little spark in your mind heading in to kind of feel like how do you prepare for this? So, you know, you're making up for it now. So let's not be too hard on yourself.
[00:16:13]Hailey: Yeah. Thank, thank you.
[00:16:15]Stef: You know, cause also not everybody's honest as you are right now and having these conversations and that's so important. That's how we're all gonna get better. So, I appreciate you. sharing that. So, and at the end, You know, after two seasons at UAA, you stopped racing for UAA and you decided to go to APU and ski with them.
What were the steps that sort of led you to that, you know, decision and that direction. And did it have to do with what we just talked about or was it, you know, completely different and you wanted to go pro and you wanted to make a change.
[00:16:46]Hailey: You know, it was both, it was a couple of different factors, definitely the team dynamic and kind of how I struggled with that was a factor. But I refused to run away from that problem because I think that life is going to keep giving you the same lessons to learn until you learn. So I knew that if I run away from that, it's going to keep coming back to me no matter where I am struggling with like that idea of feeling threatened and the team dynamic.
So that was a factor that I had a really tough second year of school. You know, I dealt with some depression and anxiety for the first time in my life, really during that time. And started seeing my therapist more regularly, which I had already done in high school at one point when I was really struggling with body image.
So I revisited therapy and yeah, started on antidepressants for a time even, which was hard to like actually do for me. I didn't want to admit to that, but I needed it to get through that dark time. It's dark in Alaska. I had difficult times with the team I wasn't skiing well, not like myself. So yeah, it was a difficult time that year for me, I had a little bit of conflict with the coach and like belief in me and a lot of different factors. And at the same time I qualified for the US ski team that year, so I decided I wanted to kind of focus on skiing more than the NCAA program.
[00:18:17]Stef: That's a lot, like what you just shared is a lot, right? Like your issue. First of all, I just want to back up to the conversation of the universe, continuing to throw things at you that you're going to have to continue to learn until you call it out, recognize it and really learn it. I think that that is something that I really believe in, and it is so important to kind of step back and see that context. And if you keep seeing something over and over happening to you, if you will and you reacting in a specific way that is something to pay attention to, right. And there, that whole idea of like the universe is going to continue to throw something at you until you learn the lesson, or until you understand it is an interesting one in itself.
It probably could be its own podcast, but you know, you, you just mentioned calling out your own mental health and like the importance of like taking care of things. When you do feel like you're down dealing with anxiety and depression is a very real thing. And especially in division one collegiate sports we know that it's continuing to get worse and worse for young women, and it is so important to ask for help.
So how did you get to that point where you said, you know what I'm going to ask for help and what advice would you have to other girls out there that might be scared to take that step and not just admit to themselves that maybe I, I could ask for help. I should ask for help. I need help, but also taking that step to get the help there.
[00:19:43]Hailey: Totally so important, so important to do and to talk about. And so hard to do is to actually ask for help and make that step. I think, I think for me, actually, my parents saw it first in me. Like they were the first ones who kind of noticed like maybe you could use help. And I'm really lucky that my parents were able to see that and you know, offer support in that way.
And not everyone has family or close loved ones that will offer that. But I think it doesn't have to be as hard as it was for me. I spent one night that I remember so vividly. Like out in a snowbank crying while my team was having a party inside because I was so sad and down and like, that's not normal.
That's not how it had to be for me. And I think an important distinction for me was learning about brain health. It's mental health. We call it mental health, but a lot of it has nothing to do with our mental state. It's not something we can mental our way out of, or, or change our perspective right away and it's healed. Like chemicals in our brains are sometimes off. And I think that that's a totally normal human thing to go through that a lot of athletes do go through at a time. Our brains are so high functioning and so wired to be driven and to overanalyze things. And I think that leads to some challenges with our brain health, a lot of the time as athletes. And we're able to get through this, if we can get the help and it takes some time, but there's support out there, like reach out to your coach to do a teammate you trust to parent or friend.
And if you can share that with someone, they can help you find the help you need. If you don't feel like you're able to do it. And I think that just having that conversation is the first step. Even if it's scary.
[00:21:38]Stef: Absolutely. Well, can you talk a little bit about why do you think you were depressed and why do you think you were anxious? Is this something that started for you earlier in your high school career? You mentioned you were struggling with body image a little bit. Did you feel like this was something that was like a gradual progression into then this moment that you had in Alaska crying on the snowbank, which is not normal, but it is normal in the sense of like, we've all been there, we've all had moments where we're down. And the question is really thinking about how did I get here and what am I doing to really support myself. So it sounds like you got the support you needed. How do you think you got there? And I guess what lessons can we pull from that to help other girls in our community?
[00:22:26]Hailey: Such a good question. I think it was a more gradual thing for me. I think looking back, you know, once I'm through this and in a stable place, and I go to therapy almost every other week nowadays to maintain my mental health, which is so important for me. Looking back, I can see some patterns from high school and even middle school where I was anxious.
Like, I, I wouldn't be able to sleep before an exam or, you know, I would just be overthinking things so much. Which I think was a clue to how my brain was wired. So then I got put into a really high stress situation in college with teammates, with trying to perform under pressure, to represent my team, trying to find my own identity and my self-worth within and outside of sport.
And combined with darkness of winter, I think a lot of winter athletes. I mean, every human in the winter feels that more or less combined with that darkness up in Alaska really, you know, spiraled me into like situational depression. And yeah, it was definitely situational, but then I kind of learned more about my family's mental health history and kind of learned that like one of my parents had struggled with depression in the past.
And a lot of mental health challenges are genetic or have genetic components. Not all of them are, but that was something that I kind of learned more about after the fact. So I realized like, oh my gosh, I am not even close to alone in this. So many of my teammates struggle with it, my friends across the country on different teams.
So many people go through something like that. And I think yeah, learning that I wasn't alone through that was hugely helpful. And I could approach it more from a lens of curiosity rather than judgment for myself.
[00:24:16]Stef: Well, I think now, like more than ever, we're having more conversations about the importance of mental health and prioritizing mental health over physical health, but often it's hard to contextualize. What does that mean? You know, so especially if you never have prioritized mental health before, and you're, you know, when you're in high school and you're in college and you're like, okay, all this conversation around mental health, but what does it mean to prioritize that?
So now that you have had this experience yourself in college and you are, you know, on an elite level competing, can you contextualize for us as a community like what does taking care of your mental health and prioritizing your mental health in terms of that athlete mindset and as a human, what does it mean to you?
Like what are you actually doing daily, weekly that you weren't maybe doing before, but now because you are prioritizing your mental health, you're doing.
[00:25:14]Hailey: first and foremost thing that I'm doing more than I was before is growing as a human, because I'm paying attention to my mental health. I, I'm a huge believer that sport is about being better humans and growing as people more than winning and being the best at something. But so yeah, some things that I've noticed. I go to therapy, like I said, every other week I have this whole last year, pretty much just as like maintenance. And I work on everything from skiing to dealing with pressure, sports psychology type of stuff, to also relationships and self-worth and body image and my relationship with food and just anything that I need to help me through life.
You know, I think it's so important to have life support like that. But I think outside of that, I've learned some really important tools, like how to signal safety to my nervous system. So if I'm in a super anxious place and I can feel my heart rate going up in my chest, feeling tight, I can actually like do physical there's physical ways to signal safety to your nervous system, to get it to calm down and get my brain back into green zone and functioning, which I just have found so fascinating to learn about, but I've made steps to really prioritize balance, to try to stop dreading my afternoon workouts. And if it's creative, it's creating so much stress for me to get that in. I can just go for a walk with the dog and that's okay.
I'm learning to accept myself to accept the challenges, the good, the bad, the ugly, and yeah, just, just working on it consistently has been really helpful.
[00:27:13]Stef: I love that. Thank you for sharing it. Well, let's talk about self-worth because I think often as athletes, when we, especially when we go through these transitions, right. High school to college and college to pro where you feel like you leave a little piece of yourself behind and it's sometimes through the lens of performance, right.
And that can be a dangerous place to be. It's also, why have a lot of Olympians they're coming out of their incredible moments and they're going back and they're not in that Olympic moment anymore. And that is a difficult time. And so I want to just talk about self-worth for a little bit.
What have you learned about the mindset of self-worth and that you're more than an app. How do you express that, I guess, to your younger self who maybe thought like the competition was the only thing that mattered and that one race time is all that matters. How do you now advise younger girls on this topic
[00:28:10]Hailey: Totally. I think I wish I could have asked myself to really look within myself and find out what I value more as I was younger because it took me until I was in my twenties to really like ask myself that. And I think I would have been capable of it earlier as I think a lot of girls are, is like, do I value winning and being skinny and trying to look really fit?
Like those were things that I really valued the most when I was younger. And at least I thought I did. And that's what motivated me. And that's what got me to where I am in a lot of ways was motivations that weren't sustainable, but I've absolutely struggled, you know, in my, in my early twenties.
And like, I dunno, basically since I went to school. So from like 18 on until now, even still grappling with the fact that my motivations have changed and I'm trying to figure out what those new motivators are having this community is actually one of the hugest motivators for me ever now. But I think, I think some people have to learn that on their own time.
And I think I might've been one of them. I don't know if there was something I could have said to myself and really cause people that was always told to me, you know, to be like, like this is about the team. And like, it's so fun to have the team, but I had never experienced it and I never had that sense of community and that sense of motivators that are healthy and sustainable.
So it has taken me a little while to learn it. I think what I would have said is like, if I, if I notice my motivators aren't sustainable and healthy, the moment I noticed that I could have started working toward defining new motivators for me, you know, if what was working in the past, isn't working anymore.
But yeah, I don't know. It's a tough question to answer because. I'm such a competitive person and you know, it's easy to be motivated by competition.
[00:30:19]Stef: Well, I think you touched on something that I don't think a lot of people talk about, but it's definitely there, which is the motivator to do sport, to shape your body. And that can lead down a pretty unhealthy path. If not, you know, really surrounded by other motivations or healthy eating habits and all those other things.
So how do we, how do you talk about your experience with body image struggles as a young athlete and how has your, how has that changed for you, I guess, as you went through college, because that transition, and we're talking a lot about this time period, because we, we both are very passionate about how to help other girls going through high school to college transitions, but that can be a moment where you really start to develop more into your body and you start introducing weights and you start introducing new routines, new eating habits.
And so did you notice like a harder time for you when it came to body image during that transition and what would you say now to girls that are like about to go to college or they're in college, they might be struggling with body image. What advice would you have for them.
[00:31:30]Hailey: The piece of advice that I would have most prominently is it is never too late to start getting help. I felt like I was really lucky in a way, because I really struggled like my junior and senior year of high school, I noticed my body was changing. During that time I was gaining more weight.
Like my thighs were starting to touch, you know, where they hadn't before. And I didn't like that. I felt bad about myself. And I started restricting food. I started, you know, eating super regimented diets and eating like steak and broccoli for breakfast at times. And I was like, looking back, I'm like, oh my gosh, like, I can't believe I was in that place where I felt like I needed to do that because I hated my body so much. The summer before I went to college, actually, I had talked to my mom. I brought up to my mom that like, I kind of want to like see someone. Like I kind of want to fix this before I go to school because I, I had heard that the transition to college can be really difficult on people's body image and like with eating disorders and disordered eating habits. And I wanted to, like, I had that awareness luckily to want to deal with that before going to school in a new place, without the support system that I had back home.
And luckily my mom was in support of that, too. If you have a safe person of any kind, I would talk to them about it, to all the girls listening. But yeah, so I actually started going, I saw like an eating disorder specialist therapist too, during that summer before leaving which was just so powerful and impactful.
I'm so grateful. I had the opportunity to do that and to deal with it before going through the transition of school, because transitioning to school would have been really hard without having that support system and having a little bit of a tool bag to, you know, choose tools from when I started falling back into unhealthy habits for me.
[00:33:38]Elizabeth: Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport podcast. My name is Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player at Emory university and producer of this week's episode. If you enjoy hearing from Hailey Swirbul and would like to get the chance to talk to athletes like her, go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content.
Don't forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode.
[00:34:05]Stef: So, what did you learn from going to see a specialist and really making sure you, entered college in a way that was healthy.
[00:34:12]Hailey: Yeah. My therapist really approached things through the lens of what would you tell someone else in your shoes? You know, because I think it's so easy for us to be hard on ourselves where we wouldn't treat other people the way that we treat ourselves in such a bad way, honestly, a lot of the time.
And That was a really impactful way to think of it, to me is like, I would never want one of my friends or someone that I care about to hate their bodies this way, or to treat their bodies this way. And it was absolutely not a quick fix for me. And it's something that I still struggle with when I have a trigger, see, like, feel really insecure about my legs or whatever body part I'm insecure about.
It's something that's been an ongoing thing for me, but it gets so much better. I get it. It doesn't control me anymore. I had noticed in high school that it was controlling me. All I would think about is the next time I would get to eat. And my next meal and training was miserable because I was hungry.
Like it took the fun out of everything I was doing that was so unsustainable, but. Yeah, learning in therapy that summer, like how do I want to treat myself the way that I would treat others?
And you know, like, I want to be kind, I want to be compassionate. I want to be generous. And those are qualities that I really valued that I wasn't giving to myself at all.
[00:35:43]Stef: Yeah. I think like all of what you're sharing is very common. Right. I went through the exact same thing you just said, like as a ski racer and a soccer player with body image and it, it can be really, really hard to, it feels like you're alone, but really you're not.
Hopefully anyone listening to this podcast knows like you are not alone, and that's why we have this community. You can ask for help. If you don't feel comfortable asking your coach for help, then come on VIS and ask one of our specialists for help or talk to a mentor. But I think what you said earlier is so key is like, try not to just be in your own head and the experiences that you've had working with experts, both across psychology, sports, psychology, and nutrition is going to make you a much better athlete and a much better human. So I'm so happy to hear that you have like leveraged all of these different tools to help yourself and have a better journey.
And, you know, what would you say to other girls out there that may be just feel alone that are not asking for help and they're not looking for those tools yet.
[00:36:50]Hailey: I would say it doesn't have to be this hard. something feels really hard that you're struggling with and you have a gut feeling that it maybe doesn't have to feel this way. It probably doesn't. And if you can ask for help and talk, even just start with a conversation with a friend, just to tell them kind of what your thoughts are, where your head's at around something like getting that out there for the first time and admitting it to yourself is actually the hardest part to me, the hardest part to me was admitting it to myself and being like, whoa, actually isn't healthy for me, what I'm doing.
Like, I don't like that food is controlling my life and all my thoughts and it just felt how to control to me. And you know, I, I know I'm just one instance and everyone who has gone through something similar has their own brain in their own way of arriving at that. But that was my experience. It's scary, but it, it, it all, even if it gets harder, it's hard to ask.
So that will be scary, but it always will get better. Once it's out there is what I've found with almost anything hard I've talked about in public or to a loved one.
[00:38:05]Stef: Well, you've also spoken out a bit about burnout during college. So how did you recognize that you felt this way, and what were the specific actions that you took at that time for burnout? Cause I think a lot of athletes in college, I mean, there's a lot to balance. You have your sport, you have friends, you're in a new city, you also have academics and you didn't take your academics very lightly. You studied and got a degree in civil engineering. So congratulations! It's a great degree, but not an easy one. So, how, how do you avoid burnout? How do you name it? If you, if you think you're experiencing burnout and then what advice would you have to, to the other girls in college?
[00:38:46]Hailey: Great topic, loaded topic. So much to talk about related to that. I think that that's something that I'm still learning about and still figuring out because it's definitely hit me at times throughout the last six or so years.
I think with motivators, my motivators have changed so much. So the biggest phase of burnout that I've gone through is kind of recognizing that the things that used to motivate me don't motivate me anymore. So why am I doing this?
I was motivated by things that weren't going to be sustainable for me as my values grew and developed. And I noticed that my motivators weren't aligning with my values anymore. So yeah, I think I've learned recently and I'm still learning how to realign those motivators with sport because I still have a lot of growing up to do and a lot of growing as a human to do.
And I think sport is a really safe place to do that. A supportive place. There are so many resources available for us all to help be our best selves, that's become a really like guiding principle for me now.
[00:39:58]Stef: Definitely you were able to transition because after you graduated, you ended up going to the Olympics. That is a big moment, right. Making it to the Olympics. First of all, is a huge accomplishment. But coming off the back of what you're describing as sort of this four or five years of like, you know, identifying your real motivations , and working through the things that you mentioned, how did you get there and go to the Olympics, like fully, mentally prepared to accomplish what you did ? Cause you, you showed up there, you did an amazing job, but it's a super high stress environment. You know, you're watching all these athletes that you've probably looked up to a lot of your life. And you're just coming off of transitioning to like finding your real motivators. So, how has that experience going to the Olympics and was there ever a moment while you were there where you found your motivator?
[00:40:56]Hailey: Actually yes. The Voice in Sport mentor Rosie is the instigator behind it, which is awesome. She's a great mentor. I love that.
Yeah, it's awesome. I wouldn't say I went into the Olympics actually like mentally ready for it at all. I think that that was it was hard. It was hard. The Olympics were hard for me this year.
A really amazing experience that I'm so grateful for the opportunity, but it was challenging. The one moment that really stands out that involved Rosie is Rosie and I were talking about, well, I guess a little backstory, is that going into this season? I wasn't totally sure if I wanted to continue skiing after this year.
And this moment with Rosie is kind of what actually turned the tables for me to make me realize like I actually do.
So I was talking with Rosie one night at the Olympics and we were talking about our one teammate here in Alaska. That is my age 23 and thinking of retiring. And Rosie said, I hope he doesn't retire because he still has so much to learn in life. And I was like, Wait, what, what, like, why can't he learn that anywhere?
And she's the one who actually told me, she was like, yeah, but like skiing is such a safe place to learn those things. If you're just thrown out into society and kind of lost and wandering around, like you don't have the support group, the team, the coaching staff, the team behind the team there that has your back, which athletes are really lucky that we have a lot of those resources.
So I think talking about that with Rosie and having a few other conversations with Rosie, actually, you know, about just kind of her journey through sport and what it's meant to her and how it's helped formed her as a person has really made me realize, like, I, I think I am allowed to do this for reasons other than winning, I'm allowed to do this for.
Wanting to be part of this amazing community for wanting to try my best at something, for wanting to conquer my fear of failure in a way, you know, I think that those are all things that came up at the Olympics that really like had a way bigger impact on my life and my career more than the actual Olympics did.
[00:43:28]Stef: I love that. I love that it was a teammate for you for your story. I love that it was a teammate that it was another woman, that it was somebody who just said it like it is, I think it's pretty amazing to have those conversations and that one conversation leading you to make a decision about your career.
It just kind of goes back to the importance of like, talking about things, right? Whether, whether you want to talk about them or not, sometimes it's just so helpful to open yourself up to somebody like you did. And a lot of times you'll be gifted back something that you weren't even expecting.
[00:44:06]Hailey: Well put, yeah, I completely agree with that.
[00:44:10]Stef: Well, your, your career has a long way to go. I mean, you're only 23 and a lot of incredible skiers have peaked way, way older than you. So when you think of, so when you think about your journey now, what is your vision for like the next 10 years? What do you want the impact that you want to make on the skiing community?
[00:44:33]Hailey: I think growing up, I wanted to leave an impact of being the most decorated skier or being the best classic skiier here in the world or, whatever, you know, which are totally fine if that motivates people, awesome, go with that, but be a good teammate along the way, that's my advice. I think that there are some things within ski culture and I think sport culture in general, for women that need to change, and I really want to help change some of those things. And I want to be part of that and I want to support the next generation and kind of try to help guide these younger girls into finding a sustainable way to love sport and to be their best and to grow as humans all the time while doing that myself, you know, that's how I kind of want to leave sport over the next eight years or whatever.
[00:45:28]Stef: I love that. Okay. So what are some of the challenges in the sport culture you know, specifically the skiing culture that need to change?
[00:45:36]Hailey: Yeah, I think the most important thing that I think could make a huge difference is if more women and girls are open and honest publicly about things that are difficult for them, you know, in the world of social media, it's so hard to feel like your life is good and that you're doing a good job when we're fed like the social media version of everybody's lives.
That's something that I've struggled with a ton is comparing myself to all these amazing posts that I'm seeing all the time.
[00:46:10]Stef: but just recognize their amazing posts, they're not exactly the reality, right.
[00:46:15]Hailey: Right. And even if they are, you know, we all have Instagram worthy moments in our life, you know, there are amazing moments like that, but that's not all it is. And there's a lot of challenges as well. I would love to see more women and role models and people that the next generation looks up to you talking about real things.
it doesn't have to be something like super traumatic. Like I survived a really difficult eating disorder, which is hugely important. I would like to add that note in to talk about those things, but I think it's also important to talk about, oh yeah, like life on the world cups actually kind of hard at times and kind of lonely and isolating, like I wish I could be home and I wish that that will be accepted. And I really hope that that can be okay to talk about more in the future.
[00:47:03]Stef: I love that. I mean, this is why we have the story sharing tool on the platform. We want girls to share their story, anybody. And I know you're passionate about writing, but you can share it through writing and you can share it through videos and you know, sometimes you might not want to post it all over social media and that's okay.
You can come to ,our community and post it to all the other girls and women in sport, so that they see it, and that is so important. So, I love that you called that out because if we have more conversations, real conversations about the things that we all feel challenged with, we all won't feel alone, number one, and then we'll all feel like we can really lift each other up and get behind each other. And I wonder if that's also part of the reason why you're a member of the Women's Ski Coaching . , you know, share with us a little bit about that organization and its mission and how you got involved.
[00:47:54]Hailey: Yeah, the Women's Ski Coach Association has a mission to develop, retain and advance women and ski coaching leadership, hopefully a branching into other sports in the future too once we get some more momentum, but that is something that I felt so passionate about wanting to get involved in because I had one woman coach growing up, actually like in college. I had an assistant coach who was a woman as well, but up until then, I had, I've had one woman coach like my whole life. And she left a huge impact on me. She was strong, she was driven. She would go to bat for me in a really male dominated field, which is coaching. There's been a total movement now because of largely because of Women's Ski Coach Association that has encouraged and helped women coaches get into those roles.
So, I think like for all of us athletes listening to this coaching should be an option as a career for us. Like I never really had thought about it before being part of Women's Ski Coach Association is like, why am I not considering being a coach one day? Like athletes who have been through it. Have more experience and more understanding of what it's actually like, where we should be encouraged and respected as coaches, you know, in the future if we want that. So, yeah, I'd love to see a change there. And I think that that momentum is already happening and it's gonna to change a lot of girls' lives to have more women coaches to look up to.
[00:49:35]Stef: I agree. I think it's so important. We not only need the role models, the access to the role model is like, we're doing it at VIS, but there needs to be more women in those powerful positions of coaching, owning teams, and owning leagues. And so we will be advocating right alongside the Women's Ski Coach Association to support you guys, because I think it's so important and similar to you.
I grew up in two sports, soccer and skiing that had predominantly male coaches and, you know, it does have an impact on . You. And I also think it's a reason why we have a lot of like a lot of us as younger women are afraid to speak up and talk about the issues we're going through because you're in this environment that's not necessarily built for you.
So we have a lot of work to do. And I'm so excited that there are other amazing organizations like the Women's Ski Coach Association that is just going after and tackling one of these specific areas like coaching. It's really cool.
[00:50:33]Stef: Well, one final question to end our podcast today, you know, we really are trying to build a community that will keep girls in sport, and that's about sharing advice.
And we're also about trying to drive change, you know, and like actively do things that will help women's sports. So let's start with your one piece of advice to all girls in sport out there. What would be one thing that you would want to share with them?
[00:50:59]Hailey: Yeah, I touched on it earlier in conversation, but I think my one piece of advice would be that it's not considered a failure until you actually give up on it. No matter what it is, no matter if it's being the best version of yourself, if it's chasing a goal for a result, if it's being a great teammate or, you know, I wish that I had believed that more growing up because failure was hard for me or what I thought was failure, but it's not failure if you get yourself back up and you try again. It feels embarrassing, but it's actually the most respectable thing in the world to me to get back up and try something again that you just didn't succeed at doing. So do that!
[00:51:42]Stef: Love that. Love it. Okay. And what is one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
[00:51:49]Hailey: Definitely more women being open and honest, publicly about things that are difficult for them.
[00:51:56]Stef: So much appreciate Hailey, you coming on the Voice in Sport podcast today. I think your story will really resonate with everybody in the community and just want to thank you for being open and honest and vulnerable yourself. I know it's not easy to talk about a lot of these things and you basically laid it all out there, so I mean, pretty much. everything that you went through is everything we're trying to get ahead of, for other young athletes out there, whether that's dealing with body image, how to approach, fueling how to think about yourself as a human and, and just opening yourself up to having conversations with people along the way.
So, I just want to say thank you and really enjoyed having you on the podcast.
[00:52:37]Hailey: Thank you so much. It was awesome to get to chat with you.
[00:52:40]Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by VIS creator, Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player from Emory University. Hailey's journey reminds us that nothing is a failure until you give up whether it is a skill or a dream. True strength is shown in persistence and commitment. Hailey also reminds us how to reframe our motivators in order to prioritize both our mental health and maximize our athletic potential.
I wanna thank Hailey for talking so honestly about her burnout experience and journey into recovery. She's an inspiration, a mentor, an athlete, and above all an incredible human being.
It's also so important that we remember that we aren't alone in our challenges. Hailey emphasizes that even though each of us are on our own journeys with mental health and athletic performance, it's so important that we are supportive teammates.
You can follow Hailey on Instagram @hai.swirl , or check out her blog at haileyswirbul.com/blog . Now, head to the feed on voiceinsport.com and filter by journey or by skiing and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at VIS. Check out the sessions page and filtered by professional athlete or journey and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our VIS league mentors or experts.
Please click on the share button on this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy the conversation. You might also wanna check out other episodes featuring winter athletes, like episode number 61 with Breezy Johnson, where she talks about what makes a champion. See you next week on the Voice in Sport podcast.
Olympian Hailey Swirbul, a professional cross country skier, shares her experiences with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression.