Liz Swaney strives for Olympic spot

Liz Swaney slides down the track at the Utah Olympic Park. Photo courtesy of Liz Swaney

Despite a Harvard degree, an interest in real estate, a failed run for governor of California in 2003 (she lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger), a job at PCTV and a Pac-10 championship while serving as coxswain of the University of California-Berkeley men’s rowing team, Liz Swaney has had just one constant goal throughout her life make the Olympics.

Swaney, who triple-majored in political economy, political science and German at Berkeley and also completed a History of the Built Environment minor before heading to grad school at Harvard for real estate development, is the last person one would expect to slide dangerously down an ice track face first. It’s also hard to imagine her performing the twists and tricks necessary to be a world-class halfpipe skier.

But that’s exactly what she’s been doing to pursue her Olympic dream. Swaney, whose mother is Venezuelan, has dual citizenship and is working towards a spot representing Venezuela in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in skeleton, halfpipe skiing, or both.

"I was watching the Olympics in 2006," she said. "The sport I did mostly in college was rowing I was the coxswain for the crew team and I steered the boat. I was watching bobsledding and thought maybe I could be a bobsledder because the steering is really similar."

That didn’t work out for Swaney, though. So she steered in another direction.

"I tried to get recruited by the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. They were like, ‘You’re a little too small to be a bobsledder, but we want you to come out to our Elite Development Camp in Lake Placid and try skeleton. I thought that was really exciting," she said. "I got to spend a week at the Olympic training center."

Shortly after finishing grad school in 2009, Swaney moved to Park City full time.

"I really like it here, it’s great," she said. "I feel like Park City is a great place to pursue both of these sports."

While training on the skeleton track at the Utah Olympic Park in 2010, the water ramps caught Swaney’s eye, leading her to begin pursuing two sports.

"The water ramps are really close to the skeleton track at the UOP," she said. "I was always watching those. I actually did them a few days in 2007 and then, beginning in the summer of 2010, I just started training there as much as possible three or four days a week."

Now she’s traveling the world, competing in skeleton competitions as well as halfpipe contests. She recently found herself in New Zealand for a halfpipe event. But, she said, the trip didn’t go as expected.

"I was really excited to get to go there," she said. "I wasn’t even sure I’d have enough money to go until the day before I left."

After the hectic travel, the practice days leading up to the event led to another setback.

"The day before the competition I fell in the halfpipe (the same halfpipe where snowboarder Shaun White recently suffered an injury) and tore a calf muscle or a muscle next to it we’re still trying to figure out what it is," she said. (She would later discover that she had broken her leg.) "That next day was the most painful day of my life. I was able to ski a little bit, but I had to walk in ski boots, which was the most painful thing ever."

Despite picking up both of her sports fairly recently, Swaney said she hasn’t had too much experience dealing with injuries.

"I’m not used to getting injuries at all, which I’m grateful for," she said. "But this calf injury is teaching me about recovery and making sure that I keep an open mind about what can happen. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it."

She has a couple months off now before the skeleton and ski seasons start this fall.

"Luckily the next ski competition isn’t until December and the next skeleton competition isn’t until November," she said. "I’ll have a lot of recovery time. So, if an injury had to happen, it’s good it happened now."

If she recovers fully by then, she’ll try her hardest to make the Sochi Olympics. After that, her plans are up in the air.

"I’m not really sure what I’m going to do after 2014," she said. "I’ll either be trying to make the 2018 Olympics or doing something else for awhile and then picking back up my training again closer to the Games."

To learn more about Swaney and her quest for the Olympics, go to .

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