2017 was a big year for Seawolf gymnast Madeleine Arbuckle.
As a junior all-around athlete, she set career highs in all five of her events — an impressive 9.7 or better in the vault, beam, bars and floor events, and a combined 38.350 in the all-around.
But those aren’t the only numbers worth celebrating. Madeleine — an environmental studies major with eyes on law school — also ended the season on the conference all-academic team; her 3.91 GPA is second highest among all gymnasts in the six-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
She credits her parents for helping her excel in both academics and athletics. Her mom, who worked in education, emphasized school and sports equally, especially as Madeleine’s gymnastics career took her farther from their Winnipeg home (once even to a meet in Marseilles, France). If she wanted to travel for competitions, she had to have the grades first.
So, since she’s trained 20 hours a week since third grade, the student-athlete balance at UAA was no surprise. “I’m used to being busy my whole life,” she said with a laugh.
During gymnastics season, Madeleine typically arrives on campus by 6:30 a.m. with everything she’ll need for the entire day. The day starts with a four-hour morning practice with her team, then she’ll either focus on recovery in the Alaska Airlines Center or run to her first class, depending on the day.
Her coursework draws from a variety of disciplines, like science writing, environmental sociology, GIS mapping and civic engagement. “It’s kind of a broad range, but I like that,” she said of the environmental studies degree.
Even a single class in the department can contain a range of experiences. Last fall, Madeleine took an environmental planning and preparation course built around the controversial connector between Bragaw Street and Elmore Road. Since the affected wetlands lie on the edge of east campus, she and her classmates ambled through the area taking notes, meeting with wildlife experts and botanists, even writing a public comment for the mayor’s office with their conclusions.
The class, she said, provided “practical skills that are good to have in our field, but also just as an engaged citizen.”
Madeleine carried that mindset into an internship at Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit environmental law firm in Anchorage. She started the internship midway through her busy gymnastics season, and finished up once the school year ended. Sitting in on staff meetings and coalition calls, she realized how many current Arctic issues — like climate change and oil explorations — had already turned up in her course projects at UAA.
With the internship finished, she’s now ahead of the game heading into senior year, with only 15 credits left to complete. That provides a bit more time to focus on gymnastics as the team enters a big transition.
Madeleine — last season’s MVP, as voted by her teammates — is now one of three seniors leading the Seawolf gym team into a new chapter. After 33 years, Coach Paul Stoklos — the program’s first and only head coach — retired from UAA. While Seawolf Athletics looks for a new coach, the handful of gymnasts in Anchorage this summer will continue to train with UAA’s strength coach.
Regardless of what happens, Madeleine is optimistic. The team is strong, both physically and in familiarity. When Madeleine first flew to Anchorage as a high school senior, she remembers how all the athletes took time away from their busy finals to meet her. Those personal connections have only continued in her three years on the team.
“This [past] year, I think we had really awesome camaraderie among the team … I think we did a really good job of supporting each other,” she said, calling her team a “home away from home.”
But most of all, she’s thankful for the opportunity to continue competing and studying in the environmental frontlines of Alaska.
“Playing a sport has allowed me to go to a different country and receive an education … Some of my best friends are from Europe or other places in the Lower 48,” she said.
“It’s just been cool to meet people from all over, and get exposed to all these different experiences that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do.”
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement