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Skier thankful her path led to mission

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BOISE, Idaho — For some athletes, the Olympic dream dies at the end of competitive trials. Hailey Wappett's Olympic dream died when she submitted papers to serve a mission for the Church.

After a successful stint as a cross country skier on the University of Utah's nationally prominent ski team, she had a good chance of making the U.S. team for the 2002 Winter Games in Utah. But instead, she will watch the Olympics on television from her home in Boise, Idaho, and follow closely the U.S. cross country team, which will include some of her former teammates and competitors she got to know over the years.

She has no regrets, she said during a Church News telephone interview. She doesn't fret over whether or not she could have made the Olympic team if she had accepted offers to continue training rather than accepting a call to serve in the Japan Fukuoka Mission.

"There are a lot of things you learn when you compete: how wonderful it is to win, but how temporary that feeling is," she said. "It's a comfort to know I have the gospel where peace and happiness are forever."

Hailey Wappett fell in love with cross country skiing in Fairbanks, Alaska, where her family moved when she was 3 years old. She skied competitively in high school and was good enough to move on to the collegiate ranks. She wanted to join a winning team at a school with a strong institute program; the University of Utah was the right fit.

She said she loved skiing there where her teammates, especially those from outside the United States, gave her a broader perspective on the world and its various cultures. And teammates would often ask her about the LDS culture in Salt Lake. She said she took advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with them, especially on road trips during which they traveled by van sometimes for 8-12 hours a day. She recalled one trip in particular. Passing through Bountiful, Utah, one night, members of the team were impressed by the glistening white temple on the hillside. Teammates asked her about the temple and that led to a gospel discussion.

She graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1998 and said she spent the following summer fasting and praying to find out what the Lord wanted her to do. The answer came clearly.

While almost everyone she skied with at Utah had an Olympic dream, she said, "I'm so grateful I didn't take that path," expressing concern that she might have missed out on Sundays and associations with Church members if she became more competitive as she rose higher in the sport.

A member of the Boise University 5th Ward, Boise Idaho University Stake, she has landed a job with a small engineering firm. Home from her mission for six months, she is still in love with skiing, involving herself in coaching youth and competing in cross country with other racers in the area.