GOSHEN, N.Y. – While coaching at the sports camp of the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA) 14 years ago, I watched a focused, determined little girl training to become the absolute best at whatever sport she participated in.
Fast-forward to today, I see that same intense focus and determination in that girl. Only now, the stakes are much higher; the opportunity to proudly represent her country at the 2018 Winter Olympics being held in PyeongChang, South Korea.
On November 10 this year I drove up to Goshen, N.Y., to sit down and talk with Tania Prymak, currently ranked the No. 1 female ski cross racer in the United States, and No. 15 in the world. The interview took place two days before she would embark on a three-month International Ski Cross season, where Ms. Prymak will compete in nine events against some of the best female ski cross racers in the world, all preparing for the upcoming Olympics.
For those who aren’t familiar with ski cross, it’s where four skiers race against each other down a course filled with bumps, turns, rolling hills and exciting jumps, or as Ms. Prymak describes it, “Motorcross on skis.” She continues, “It’s a dangerous sport and racers have actually gotten seriously hurt. Ski cross is a sport that demands speed, courage and the ability to go fast in a crowd.”
Now most people would think that being ranked No. 1 in one’s country means that she is a lock for the Olympics, but what I learned was that the U.S.A. Olympic selection process is a unique and complicated one. Not only is ski cross a non-funded sport in the U.S.A. (there is no financial support from the U.S. Olympic Team or the U.S. ski cross team, each racer pays their own way, pays their own coaches, etc.), there is no guarantee that being ranked No. 1 in your sport equals a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.
However, while Ms. Prymak narrowly missed out on the 2014 Sochi Olympics four years ago, she is hoping that some good results in her upcoming races will help secure a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
“Solid results this past season have definitely given my confidence a large boost and I’m now twice as driven to make the 2018 team,” Ms. Prymak noted.
This positive attitude seems to be characteristic of Ms. Prymak. She started her ski racing career at the age of 11 after seeing an alpine racing event and telling her mom, “I want to do that.” So she started racing at local mountains and when her skills were sharp enough, applied and got accepted to Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, an extremely reputable academic school geared for more promising skiers.
In 2011, now at the University of New Hampshire and still training with the Burke Mountain Academy team, she first saw and fell in love with the idea of ski cross racing. During the next five years she dedicated herself to learning the ins and outs of the sport and has slowly made the climb to her current rankings as the No. 1 female ski cross racer in the U.S.A. and No. 15 in the world. Some of Ms. Prymak’s accomplishments to date include:
• Tewenty-six podium finishes, 10 of which were first-place finishes at international races held around the world.
• 2012 and 2013 – World Junior Team selection, finishing as the best ranked U.S.A. female.
• 2014 – Overall North American Championship.
• 2015 – AUDI Ski Cross Overall Tour Winner.
• 2016 – finished 10th on the Olympic course during the Olympic Test event held in South Korea.
• 2017 three top-10 World Cup finishes at the U.S. National Ski Cross Championship.
The transition from alpine to ski cross was not easy. Ms. Prymak credits much of her improvement to several factors. First, her current coach and former Canadian national ski cross coach, Eric Archer, has helped fine tune her mechanics, in addition to helping her with better overall course management. Mr. Archer has also helped Ms. Prymak improve her starts, which she admits needed some work.
Second, Ms. Prymak hired personal trainer Niyan Oladipo in her off season and credits him for her improved quickness, agility and overall strength and shape. Third, to help with the mental aspect of her training, she met with a sport psychologist to help her develop mental techniques to relax and focus as she races down the course.
Most importantly, Ms. Prymak credits her parents, Myron and Julie Prymak, her grandmothers, along with her family and friends for their constant support in the pursuit of her Olympic dream. The Prymaks went so far as to build a “pump track” in their backyard for her to train on during the off-season. (Readers can also find a video clip and follow Ms. Prymak’s updates online at www.facebook.com/taniaprymakSX/.)
While Ms. Prymak’s accomplishments to date have been impressive, they haven’t come without hard work, dedication, overcoming injuries, disappointments and high costs for training expenses (as mentioned, ski cross is a non-funded U.S. Olympic event).
Some athletes find all of this way too much to handle and quit prematurely. Ms. Prymak humbly states, “It’s this overall journey that has made me a stronger and more confident racer and person. I’m grateful for having such loving parents who have supported my choices and dreams.”
The interview concluded with Ms. Prymak reminiscing about the fun times and good friends she made during those early days at the UAYA sports camps, and how she still thinks about them from time to time.
As I left Goshen that night, I couldn’t help but think how proud we all should be of this Ukrainian American athlete who has dedicated much of her young life to becoming the best in her sport and how inspiring her story can be for our young children in this country. This is my attempt to spread her inspirational journey.
Readers are encouraged to follow and support Ms. Prymak’s quest for the Olympics, by visiting her website, http://taniaprymak.com. Information on donations and assistance in funding some of the coaching, tech support, air and ground travel, lodging, etc. expenses that this true Olympian hopeful incurs, can be found at https://ussa.rallyme.com/rallies/6954. Depending on support level selected, donors could receive various U.S.A. ski cross merchandise.