Cutthroat Q&A: Annie Pokorny '11

We’re always happy to check in with Community School alumni and hear about personal and professional adventures. Here, Annie Pokorny ’11 reflects on her experiences as a Sun Valley Ski Academy student-athlete and shares an update about what she’s up to at the moment.

Annie is a writer, entrepreneur, and (former professional) athlete now based full-time out of Sun Valley. She attended Middlebury College, where she competed on their Division I ski team for three seasons, taking time off to ski full-time on the international circuit. After graduating from college, she returned to Idaho to ski for the SVSEF Gold Team.  Now, looking ahead to her first winter outside of full-time skiing, she is particularly excited to rip laps on Baldy. 

Q. How did Community School and Sun Valley Ski Academy (SVSA) shape your career as an elite athlete?

A. Had I not attended Community School and been involved with SVSA, I imagine I would have still found professional skiing, but certainly not by the same route. Community School and SVSA led me to Middlebury College, where I had the exposure to and support from the elite ski community to pursue a full-time career earlier than most (I decided to ski full time midway through my sophomore year of college). At first I thought that I would drop out of school completely, but my experiences in high school had cultivated a sense of balance in academia for me, so I returned to college after one summer away and proceeded to finish my degree while skiing full time. Had I not been a student at Community School, I’m sure I would have thought competing at an elite level and pursuing an elite education were mutually exclusive. Turns out, they can go hand-in-hand.  

Q. What do you feel your academic and athletic preparation in our community offered you that set you apart when you entered college and professional athletic competition?

A. When I entered college, I was fully capable of balancing my own schedule, prioritizing academics within athletics, and gaining a sense of balance from pursuing both. When I began competing at the elite level, I was able to manage stress and pressure because I knew that there was so much more to me than my results.

Q. What do you feel is unique about our Nordic community here in what it provides women, specifically, as they progress through training and pursue higher levels of snow sport competition?

A. The Wood River Valley is one of the best places in the world to be a Nordic skier, as well as to be a woman in sport. The culture here is one of trail adventuring, mountain biking, peak bagging, and course shredding – for everyone who lives here. Being geographically and socially remote, it’s easy for us to see all of these opportunities as normal. However, having lived and traveled all over the nation and world, I can attest that we are not normal. A lot of people grow up with aspirations to be elite athletes, very few are actually served the conditions to succeed as such. 

Q. As you reflect on your experiences throughout your junior and professional athletic career, what insight would you offer younger competitors about maintaining balance (academic, social, athletic)?

A. I remember feeling confused as a high school student because adults (especially those looking to get me into a good college) were always urging me to balance myself and be “well rounded” while also encouraging me to pursue and excel at single athletic and academic passions. True success in the latter rarely involves moderation but instead a single mindedness and total devotion to a goal (and definitely didn’t include going to homecoming).

Then I attended Community School. Suddenly, I was surrounded by kids who were competitive athletes, incredible students, rad skiers and went to the dance. As I spent more time with my new classmates, I learned that theirs wasn’t a “well roundedness” as it had been described to me, nor was it necessarily balance, but rather, the ability to prioritize. I learned how to organize my schedule so that my skiing and academics could act as breaks from, and enhance, one another. I learned that you can’t do everything, but you can do a few things really well. I learned that you do have to make sacrifices, but as long as you’re fired up about your priorities, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.

Q. Now, as you transition to a life beyond full-time athletic competition and training, what are you looking forward to exploring, and how do you feel your life as an athlete will continue to guide your life now?

A. Before I entered the workforce, the “real world,” I feared that my time in professional athletics didn’t prepare me for another professional career. As far as I can tell, I was wrong. No, I do not have a list of summer internships, nor do I have years of experience at this or that firm, but I do have a great deal of practice in goal-setting, hard-working, and go-getting. I’m learning that my years as a skier are just as valuable than a lifetime of internships. As I enter my career in writing and marketing (I have a started a small, collaborative firm based in Ketchum), I’m already using so many of the skills taught to me through sport like communication, drive, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to bounce back after failure.

For these reasons, I will always consider myself an athlete. In my life outside of skiing, I plan to continue to try lots of different new activities (hello, mountain biking) in different seasons and places. I intend to remain a voice in skiing through instruction and writing, and a voice in sport as a representative of the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF). The WSF ensures that women across the country get the funding and opportunity to experience all of the life-changing benefits of sport I’ve mentioned above. They funded much of my ski career, and until receiving a grant from them I didn’t know how many women and girls were barred access to sport (and its benefits) in our country. As a result, I’ve cultivated a passion for helping bring health and education to as many girls as possible through sport. So to answer that question, in addition to forming much of my decisions as a young adult, I suspect that sport will continue to influence the rest of my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can read and follow Annie at AnnieAtAltitude.com and learn more about her involvement with the WSF, including her current commitment to run the NYC Marathon to raise funds for the organization, here.

Photo of Annie by Hillary Mayberry.