Campus & Community

Olympic biathlete Haley Johnson ‘retires’ to University College

“I knew there was more to life than skiing. I just knew that it was time to move on and try something new and return back to the real world,” says Haley Johnson. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

It’s not unusual for students to take a break from school to try a different path for a while, but leaving to compete as an Olympic biathlete might take the cake.

Haley Johnson, 30, a junior public policy and social services major in the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program at University College, has seen and done more in the past 15 years than she imagined she would in her lifetime. It all started in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she grew up alpine racing. She switched to biathlon—a combination of Nordic skiing and marksmanship—at the suggestion of her teacher at the National Sports Academy, a high school for winter athletes.

Johnson attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, but left after two years to compete on the U.S. biathlon team. In 2010, Johnson was one of four female biathletes from the U.S. to compete in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. After finishing the 2011 World Cup in Oslo, Norway, with career-best times that qualified her for the 2011 World Championship team, Johnson suddenly announced her retirement.

“I felt like I had a very successful and fulfilling career: traveling the world, going to the Olympics and being able to pursue my potential,” Johnson says. “But at the same time, I also knew there was more to life than skiing. I just knew that it was time to move on and try something new and return back to the real world.”

In May 2011, Johnson moved to Denver to finish her degree at DU, where her fiancé, David Stewart, is the Nordic head coach. Johnson also works for the U.S. Paralympic team as a part-time Nordic ski coach and volunteers with the National Sports Center for the Disabled, where she skis with autistic children and special-needs adults.

“It’s a really neat way to rejoin the ski community after finishing my own racing career,” Johnson says. “It was a great breath of fresh air to know that I’d found some channels to be able to give back to a community.”

Although she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do after graduation, she’s enjoying the freedom to figure it out.

“I’m more focused on the idea that [my degree] will make me a more informed citizen and a much better person,” Johnson says. “I really appreciate that I have this opportunity to have a transition and take the time to figure out where I want to go without feeling like I’ve missed out.”

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