June 30, 2022
By Louise Schultze
How do you juggle the rigors of high school with a career as a professional athlete? For three Stanford Online High Schoolers, it’s about planning ahead. Winter Vinecki, Stanford OHS class of 2016, Olivia Giaccio, class of 2018, and Liz L., a rising junior, are all winter sport athletes with the same goal: to compete in the next Winter Olympic Games. Here they share how they balanced online learning with intense training:
Winter Vinecki, Stanford OHS Class of 2016
Winter Vinecki was born for winter sports. As the first person named Winter to participate in the Winter Olympic Games, competing in the 2022 games as an aerial skier was her destiny.
Winter was introduced to aerials when she was 13 years old. Already a competitive ski racer at that point, Winter was invited to try aerial skiing, and immediately fell in love with the sport, so she picked up and moved to Park City, Utah to train full time. Despite the fear of launching herself into the air and completing death-defying stunts on skis, Winter loved the adrenaline rush! During the summer months, Winter would train at the Utah Olympic Park where instead of landing on snow, she’d practice her stunts and land in a swimming pool. She was always training for something.
Winter came to Stanford OHS in 8th grade in the midst of training for – and running – a marathon on all seven continents. At the age of 14, Winter became the youngest person ever to complete this feat, having finished racing 26.2 miles in the United States, Kenya, Antarctica, Mongolia, Peru, New Zealand, and Greece. Winter’s mother accompanied her on each continent, and the two also set the World Record as the first mother-daughter duo to complete seven marathons on seven different continents. With her busy travel and training schedule, Stanford OHS was a perfect fit for her to continue her studies from wherever she was, without sacrificing a strong education.
“One of my favorite things about Stanford OHS was how I could do my school from anywhere,” Winter said. “I remember doing my school in between training sessions, sitting in my yurt in Mongolia studying for a test and even joining a class from Greece. As I’m looking back through photos, there I am at my computer getting my school done in the moments I could. I am so grateful that I could pursue so many amazing opportunities without having to sacrifice my education, thanks to this school.”
Winter graduated from Stanford OHS in 2016, and then studied Business and Nutrition at the University of Utah.
“My Stanford OHS classes were so much harder than my courses there,” Winter said. “The level of intensity and research at Stanford OHS set me up for success in college and in life. I learned how to write really well crafted papers in high school, and now I’m even writing a book about my life and experiences. I hope that by sharing my journey, I can empower the next generation to chase their dreams.”
Once she completed seven marathons, Winter set her sights on training for the Olympic Games. Though she hoped to compete in PyeongChang in 2018, a number of injuries and setbacks prevented her from being able to compete. She recovered, persevered, and in 2022 was thrilled to make Team USA as an aerial skier and competed in Beijing.
“It was incredible going to the Olympics and being there on the world’s stage, united with athletes from around the globe, especially after such a difficult couple years for everyone. Though I just missed out on finals in the competitions, I was excited to be able to share my story with the world, including about my foundation, TeamWinter.org.” she said.
After taking some well-earned time off this spring, Winter is looking forward to training over the next four years to compete in Italy at the next Winter Olympics. Her goal is to improve her jumps and become one of only a small number of female athletes competing triple backflips on snow.
Olivia Giaccio, Stanford OHS Class of 2018
A rigorous education was really important to Olivia Giaccio. Despite her lifelong passion for mogul skiing, the in-person discussion-based courses Olivia took at the ski academy were not challenging enough. Olivia was first introduced to Stanford OHS by another mogul skier and Stanford OHS alum, Anna Park, who encouraged her to switch schools. Olivia came to Stanford OHS for her sophomore year in 2015, and found that the classroom environment and coursework was much more rigorous and engaging to better prepare her for university. The school also allowed her to travel and compete at the highest level of mogul skiing.
“Stanford OHS was such a springboard for me to have opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, both academically and professionally,” Olivia said. “Balancing international travel for the World Cup with my education was tough. My instructors were always willing to work with me whether it was explaining something I didn’t understand, or a scheduling issue I needed to figure out. I would set up my schedule so that if I was in the U.S., my classes would be in the morning, and if I was in Europe, they’d be in the afternoon. In Asia, I would have to sometimes switch classes or make up sections. I learned so much about time management, getting work done, using long international flights to do my readings, and downloading work while waiting in an airport. I learned I could pursue interests I’m passionate about, both in skiing and in school.”
Olivia’s favorite Stanford OHS classes were Study of the Mind, Democracy, Freedom and Rule of Law, and CRA: Critical Reading and Argumentation. She loved how the school introduced her to Philosophy and Psychology, and was inspired to pursue a degree in Psychology at Columbia University. In the midst of taking college courses remotely this year from her training center in Park City, Olivia’s coach told her she had earned a spot on the Olympic team and was going to Beijing.
“In 2018, I was applying to colleges and doing qualifying events for the Olympic team, and was selected as first alternate,” Olivia said. “For 2022, I put a lot of pressure on myself and I was very scared of the possibility of not making the games, but I am more than just my sport! There’s a lot more to me than just being an athlete. I knew I would be ok if I didn’t make the games, but I was so happy I did!”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic threw a “curveball” for all athletes in Beijing this winter who had to quarantine and isolate under strict rules, Olivia didn’t feel as much pressure as she thought she would given that there were only a few spectators in the stands. Olivia finished 6th overall in the Women’s Moguls event finals.
“The number one moment for me was standing in the gate before my Olympic debut,” Olivia said. “I was just overwhelmed by a sweeping sense of gratitude for being able to compete at the games, especially for my family, my parents, and my coaches. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Liz L., Stanford OHS rising junior, part-time
Like Olivia, Liz L. is also a freestyle moguls skier and part-time student training for Team USA. While training together on the ski team in Park City, Utah, Olivia recommended Stanford OHS to Liz, and she now takes English, Latin, and Core classes through the school while working towards her athletic goals. Though she didn’t make the 2022 Olympic Team, Liz is determined to qualify for the next games in Italy.
“Normally with skiing and school, you don’t have a lot of time in between,” Liz said. “I fell behind in my courses a bit because I didn’t have the time, and my mind was elsewhere. Dividing your time between skiing and school and qualifying was a lot. Moguls skiing takes a lot of skill, and mental and physical toughness, but it’s really fun too!”
A typical day for Liz starts with Stanford OHS classes in the morning, followed by training in the afternoons, and homework in the evenings. When she’s traveling, she has to pay attention to the different time zones and following when her classes take place online. Sometimes she’ll miss a class and have to watch recordings to keep up with the work. It’s hard, and there’s not much time for social activities or anything else, but with Olivia as her role model and mentor, Liz is making it work.
“You definitely have to plan ahead, and not just a day or two. Plan for the next few weeks and stick to that plan, otherwise it will fall apart and you’ll be scrambling to catch up,” Liz said. “You have to look at your training and your class schedules in advance, looking ahead at your assignments and work in time to complete them.”
It’s no easy feat to be an athlete training for the world’s biggest stage, but these Pixels have proved that with planning and determination, it’s possible to meet your academic and athletic goals.