Finding symmetry between ski slopes and studies

Sammie Gaul

6 minute read

Samantha (Sammie) Gaul, student at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Business and Economics (CBE), was recently selected for the Australian National Alpine Ski team.

Sammie’s love for skiing began shortly before her second birthday, after her first skiing lesson with her father at Thredbo, NSW.

Over the span of years that followed, Sammie would live a dual life in British Columbia and Australia, build her sporting career and continue to excel in skiing, consistently taking first place.

Now, at 22 years of age, Sammie is ranked the number two female slalom skier in Australia. She is currently part of the Kronplatz Racing Center, an Italian-run international ski team based in Italy, and has competed with Australian, Canadian and USA ski teams.

Alongside her competitions and all of the preparation to go with them, Sammie is studying a Bachelor of Commerce with a focus on international business, economics and management. She has a keen interest in foreign policy, as well as improving opportunities for youth from regional areas.

In this interview, Sammie discusses her sporting career, her decision to undertake a Bachelor of Commerce at ANU, and how she balances both.

Congratulations on being selected for the Australian National Alpine Ski team! Tell us about how your sports career started, and what work has been involved for you to get to where you are.

Thank you! I moved from Sydney to a small ski town in Canada when I was five years old, where my parents started and ran an adventure-tourism business for 15 years. I was super lucky to grow up with the local ski hill literally in my backyard. I joined the Red Mountain Racers when I moved there and developed a deep passion for the sport. I was involved in other sports until my mid-teens but had standout international results in skiing. Due to this particular talent, I received a high school sport and academic scholarship to a ski-racing academy on the east coast of the USA, and decided to fully commit to ski racing from then on.

Being a professional ski racer from Australia is an incredible opportunity that carries some unique challenges and sacrifices. We need snow-covered mountains to train, so like other Australian skiers, I have to relocate across the world for half of the year in order to train and compete. When I am not skiing, I spend six days a week doing physical preparation in the gym. In skiing there is a constant demand to improve which I love, but which makes it a full-on pursuit.

Why did you choose to study at ANU? What do you hope to do with your Bachelor of Commerce?

I did my first year of university in the USA, where I skied for an National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 ski team, but had to return to Australia suddenly when the COVID-19 pandemic shut international borders. I chose to study at ANU because of its strong academic reputation and the many opportunities associated with being in Canberra – the capital city of Australia. I was originally doing a Bachelor of Arts, focusing on politics and international relations, but switched to a Bachelor of Commerce because I loved the more applied and practical elements of the CBE electives I was taking. Canberra is a great place for athletes and I’m grateful to be a part of the ACT Academy of Sport and be able to train at the Australian Institute of Sport, with a good team behind me. Canberra is also close to the Snowy Mountains for skiing, and my family who live on the Far South Coast of NSW, so these other factors made it an easy decision.

Following my ski career, I hope to work in either consulting or foreign affairs. I am confident that my commerce degree will serve as a versatile toolkit, equipping me with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in my chosen field. The outstanding academic resources at ANU and Canberra's unique opportunities have set the stage for my academic and professional journey, and I am excited to see where it leads.

Skiing and studying commerce may not have much in common on the surface, but have the lessons learned in one area helped you in another?

They don’t seem to overlap, but they definitely do! Overall, skiing has taught me to enjoy the process of learning and be constantly curious. I think having this attitude makes me more resilient when I initially don’t understand something, because I’m a process-oriented person. For example, when I am trying to master a technical skiing skill, I find that understanding why I’m doing a movement is just as important as how. Having this mindset at university is helpful, because it makes tasks less monotonous and more exciting by understanding how they are connected to a larger purpose. When I took some accounting courses I sometimes found tasks tedious, but after understanding how relevant these were to future business-planning decisions, it made me work hard to understand everything.

In terms of subject matter, I surprisingly have also had some overlap! I major in international business and I also happen to be on an international ski team based in Italy, with people from all over the world who have similar goals of going to the Olympics or skiing on the World Cup circuit. Through my university classes, I have learned how to work and collaborate on intercultural teams. Having friends of different nationalities and backgrounds through skiing allows me to understand perspectives that are different to mine.

What is your current routine like, balancing training with your studies? What habits do you implement to ensure you remain focused and motivated?

On a typical ski training day I wake up at 5.30am, travel to the mountain and train until 1pm. When I get back I do a work out and recovery program, nap, prepare my equipment for an hour, and make dinner. This leaves very little time left in the day for study, and I’m usually feeling tired. I try to block out a window in the day for study and stay disciplined with sticking to that.

Skiing and studying have forced me to work on my time-management skills and not be too much of a perfectionist. When I know I will be racing I try to get my work done in advance, and my days off the snow are devoted to studying. My Calendar and Google Keep are great tools that help keep me on track organisationally!

What advice would you give to other students who are trying to balance priorities?

For a long time I was trying to be perfect in everything that I did. This was well-intentioned because I genuinely want to put my best foot forward in everything that I do, but I learned that perfectionism can be harmful to progress through burnout and unnecessary stress. Showing up imperfectly but consistently is okay – your best effort is going to look different from day to day. My best advice to other students who are balancing multiple things is to be kind to yourself, focus on your main priorities and don’t take on too much aside from that. Prioritise your rest and well-being, and be open to help from others.

Find out more about Sammie’s ski career via her website.

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