B.A. Psychology, B.A. Languages, Class of 2015
Hometown: Budapest, Hungary
Fun Fact: Scored Olympic gear from New Zealand and Argentina at Sochi’s closing ceremonies.
Many professors can recall their favorite excuses from students who missed class, but UAA professors heard a pretty unique explanation from Anna Berecz last spring.
Anna—now a senior psychology and languages major—needed to miss three weeks of class because, of all things, she was representing Hungary at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Thankfully, her professors were willing to listen.
As a third-year student, many of her professors already knew her work ethic and understood she’d be fine missing a month of classes. “The teachers I didn’t know before were also really happy for me and very supportive,” Anna said.
So with her professors’ blessings, Anna shipped off to Sochi, joining 14 other members of Team Hungary and representing both her country—and UAA—on her sport’s most visible stage.
River city, mountain peaks
Hungary—for those not well versed in central European geography—isn’t known for its mountains. And Anna is a self-professed city kid, having grown up in Budapest—the nation’s capitol and largest city. Despite all that, she’s been skiing almost as long as she’s been walking. Her father loves the sport, and started taking Anna out in the mountains of neighboring Slovakia since she was one and a half years old—so young, in fact, that she once fell asleep while her dad was pushing her along.
As Anna and her two sisters grew, so did their quest for bigger peaks (which, in Europe, aren’t too hard to find). Her dad owned a travel agency, allowing the family to organize trips away from Hungary’s rolling hills and into world-class Alpine skiing only a few hours west. “We just love to be in the mountains,” Anna said of her family. “I guess that’s a weird thing to hear from a big city girl, but I just fell in love with the mountains.”
As Anna finished high school in Hungary, she looked to the United States to further her education. “My family background wasn’t that stable to put me through another four years, but I knew the U.S. had this really good system of getting people an education and having them represent the university,” she said. “I kind of liked that, so I looked up the top 10 NCAA universities and just emailed coaches.” After reading Anna’s email, Sparky Anderson—the Skiwolves head coach for eight years and counting—called her with a scholarship and, soon enough, Anna was on her way to Alaska.
The ski team competes largely against big-school rivals in the Rocky Mountain region, but there’s plenty of overlap with the world stage. Unlike nearly every other NCAA sport, Anna could qualify for the Olympics while competing for the Seawolves. “You don’t separate college skiing from international skiing, because the results count towards a placing in the world ranking list,” Anna explained. “Plus, there are so many Europeans here, the field is very international anyways.”
In fact, eight countries are represented just on the Seawolves roster, including new arrival Martins Onskulis, who skied for Latvia at the Sochi Olympics. The ski team also added American biathlete Sara Studebaker to the coaching roster this season, bringing the team’s total to three Olympians.
Anna has built an impressive career so far. She’s been on Hungary’s national team since she started competing internationally, qualified for the Torino 2006 Olympics (an injury sidelined her debut) and competed at the Vancouver 2010 games. Still, this two-time Olympian has remained humble about her accomplishments. “There are so few athletes, it’s easier for us to go to the Olympics and become selected for the national team,” she said.
That lower competition in Hungary has granted Anna extra opportunities internationally. While American skiers focus on one or two events at the Olympics, Anna qualified to compete in downhill, super-G, combined, giant slalom and slalom, making for a very busy month. It also gave her a great reason to stay for both the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi.
“It’s obviously a great honor to represent your country,” Anna said of the ceremonies. “There are just so many people. It’s incredible how loud it is. It’s really nice to know people care about sport events and athletes.”
Senior ski season
Anna is incredibly thankful for the support at UAA, especially the professors who accommodated her Olympic ambitions. “I’ve been lucky with my teachers—my whole four years, they have been very helpful,” she said. “Not just because of the Olympics or world championships … We have to fit a lot of things in our schedule. It takes up a lot of time.”
The Alpine skiers drive the two-hour round trip to Girdwood at least four days a week (although die-hard Skiwolves admit four days isn’t nearly enough). Back on campus, there are morning workouts and local trainings to add to their extremely busy schedule. “I learned a lot in college and time management is one of them—because I have zero free time now,” Anna laughed.
She has high hopes for her senior season, but for now she’s just hoping it snows. “Oh, we’re struggling,” she said of this winter’s low-to-no snow. So far, the team has yet to train with gates, with the exception of a few days in Colorado. “I’m not really happy with it, no one is,” she sighed.
The snowless December was admittedly frustrating, but there were a few advantages. The ski team spent more time in the new Alaska Airlines Center while waiting for the weather to cooperate, taking full advantage of the upgraded weight room and the new strength and conditioning coach. Additionally, it allowed her to see a bit more of the United States. Instead of spending winter break in the backcountry and on the lifts at Alyeska, Anna opted for her first beach vacation as an Alaskan. “I shouldn’t do that in the middle of the season, but we don’t have snow… so it works out well.”
Alaskans have plenty of chances to see the Skiwolves at home this season. The regular season kicked off Jan. 6 in Park City, Utah and will end at Alyeska for the back-to-back UAA Invitational and conference championships. All told, that’s six days straight of Seawolf skiing in Alaska from Feb. 23-28.
Anna will graduate this May and intends to enroll in graduate school in the United States. Her criteria, of course, include proximity to mountains. “I could never go to the South and study in Alabama—no mountains!” she laughed.
As for the next Olympics—the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea—she’s still undecided. “It’s going to be great—the culture and everything—it’s going to be interesting,” she said. “I’m not quite sure if I’m going to ski until then. It’s another four years. Maybe I’ll look around for something else to do.”
For now, though, she has two Olympics under her belt, a sweet stash of UAA and Team Hungary ski gear and a bright future wherever her skis take her.
Now, if only it would snow.
Read more about Anna at GoSeawolves.com
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement