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Sandy skier’s passion takes her to Alaska

Thursday, April 25, 20131374 views

Most girls her age have pictures of teenage singing stars on their bedroom walls. Sierra Ward has racers. Ski racers. And some of them are of herself.

Ward, the 14-year-old daughter of John and Shilo Ward, qualified this year to travel to Alaska to compete in the Junior Olympics March 16-25. It was her second time to qualify in the races, where she competed in three disciplines: slalom, giant slalom and super G.

“It was a lot of fun in Alaska,” she said. “When on the mountain you could see the ocean and the glaciers.  It was a great view to enjoy before the race.”

But once the racing began, all thoughts would leave her head.

“I don’t think when I race. I just go for it,” she said.

Ward finished well in Alaska. Of the 88 girls who qualified nationally, she finished 23rd overall in the giant slalom, 29th in the slalom and 30th on the super G.

“I hope to someday be on the U.S. ski team and compete in the actual Olympics,” she said.

Ward’s love of skiing runs through her family. Her grandfather, Bruce Cunningham, visited Utah from his home in Denver the first year Snowbird opened.

“He wanted to experience Utah’s snow and see the new resort,” said Sierra’s mother, Shilo. “He loved it so much, he never left.”

Cunningham even decided to go into construction as a profession so he could have the winters off to ski. He trained Shilo and turned her into a racer at Snowbird, and Shilo passed the family passion down to Sierra.

Ward began skiing when she was 2 years old, and was racing through the gates by age 5. But she experienced the thrill of the sport before ever putting boards on her feet.

“I used to take her skiing with me before she was 2,” her mom said. “She would ride on my back in a backpack and she would hit me in the head and yell, ‘Faster, mommy, faster.’”

Ward was one of the youngest skiers at last year’s Junior Olympics, held in Montana, but she knew from the experience she wanted to continue.

She has had to train on the slopes nearly every day to make it to the level of skiing she has reached.

“I ski five days each week,” said the eighth grader at Indian Hills Middle School. “During the second trimester of school, I get out at 12:30 so I can get to the slopes.”

While some of her teachers worry about the time she misses from class for her racing, at least one teacher has embraced the young athlete’s endeavors.

“Miss Morris, my history teacher, gets totally involved in my skiing,” Ward said. “She even announced over the intercom that I was going to Alaska.”

Ward had to qualify at different races throughout Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to make the Junior Olympic event. She had to qualify as one of 22 skiers in the intermountain region to make the trip to Alaska. Only 88 girls nationwide qualified for the under 16 division of the Junior Olympics.

“I like the feel of racing,” she said. “I love the competitive nature of it, and the speed you can go is a lot of fun.”

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