Hometowns: Krün, Germany, and Fairbanks, Alaska
Fun Fact: Karl proposed to Steffi during a hike up to Ptarmigan Peak during a snowstorm
After talking to Steffi Hiemer and Karl Schauer, it’s clear these two were made for each other. They grew up on different continents, more than 7,000 miles apart. It’d be a rare chance that the two would ever cross paths. Their decision to ski on UAA’s Nordic team would make the impossible, possible. Defeating the odds, UAA would help bring this couple their happily ever after.
But this love story almost didn’t happen.
In 2006, it was Steffi’s sophomore year at Werdenfels High School in Germany. She was a dedicated cross country skier who lived and breathed to put on her skis and leave the world behind her. She received multiple letters of interest from different universities all over the world, including one from UAA’s Mandy Kaempf, assistant cross country ski coach. Kaempf offered Steffi an athletic scholarship to ski on UAA’s ski team.
Steffi dismissed the letter at the time, thinking she would skip college and solely train for her dream of becoming an Olympian. After she graduated from high school, Steffi realized success in skiing alone didn’t make her happy. She was ready to focus on a new dream—to study and ski at a college in America.
“I signed an agreement to go to the University of New Mexico and was about to mail it off, but my mom encouraged me to take one more day to think it over,” Steffi said.
It was in that one day she remembered a letter she received from Mandy Kaempf two years prior. Attracted to Alaska’s wilderness, she decided to attend UAA as a Seawolf on the Nordic ski team. It was on the ski team where she met her fellow teammate—junior biology major, and future hubby, Karl.
It didn’t take long for the two to discover how much they had in common. They both grew up in ski families, putting on skis as soon as they could stand. Steffi’s parents were avid skiers; her dad was a World Cup athlete in biathlon. Karl’s dad coached the North Pole High School ski team in Fairbanks, while his mom and brother also loved the sport. His brother, Paul, even skied for UAA from 2004–2009.
But they share more than an affinity for XC skiing. Steffi and Karl were raised experiencing the outdoors. With Steffi eager to explore Alaska, Karl showed her what the last frontier was all about. From hiking and kayaking to ice climbing, and—of course—skiing, Karl wanted Steffi to experience life in Alaska to the fullest. “He took me to all these new places—the Eastern Alaska Range, the Deltas, the White Plains and lots of other places in Anchorage’s backyard,” Steffi said. “We share a love of adventure,” Karl adds.
Although Steffi took the leap to study abroad, she didn’t anticipate staying long. “I thought I’d just go and goof off, but after experiencing it all—traveling the U.S. to compete with the team, adventuring out in Alaska, and spending time with my teammates and Karl—it was too amazing to walk away from.”
Their friendship soon blossomed and the couple fell in love; the two became inseparable. Steffi and Karl graduated from UAA as decorated Seawolves with B.S. degrees in biology with Academic All American titles.
The couple married May 2012 in Girdwood surrounded by friends, family and teammates. Shortly after, they moved to Bavaria, Germany—just a “stone’s throw away from the Austria border,” as Karl puts it.
Because Steffi spent years in Alaska learning about Karl’s life and being immersed in Alaska’s culture, Karl knew it was his turn to return the favor. “As an internationally married couple, where we come from is very important to us,” Karl explained. “It was time for me to learn about her roots and get to know her family and language better.”
It’s almost like Karl’s future was written with Steffi even as a kid. Growing up, he envisioned himself living abroad and teaching English in foreign countries. He even studied languages at UAA. Now, his dream is coming to fruition. He’s going to school in Austria to become a high school biology teacher.
These two are still doing the very same thing that brought them together—cross country skiing. But now, they’re teaching it. Karl and Steffi are working as ski coaches for a ski club in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Steffi’s hometown, Krün. Steffi is also trying to develop a program to get kids ages 5 and up on skis and having fun.
“I love working with kids,” she said. “It’s really important to give back to the community and use my time to teach kids like my coaches taught me.”
Looking back, Steffi and Karl can’t pinpoint a favorite experience or memory at UAA. They feel their entire journey at UAA was one based on relationships. The relationships built with their coaches, their fellow students, teammates, training partners and each other are connections that they will be forever grateful for.
Steffi said, “There is so much support for athletics at UAA—by teachers, by students and teammates. It’s a great place to be, a great place to study and a great place to ski.”