Jessica Yeaton skiing
By Michael Haederle

Snow Show

UNM Physical Therapy Student Jessica Yeaton Will Race for Australia’s Cross-Country Ski Team at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Whenever she takes a break from her studies in The University of New Mexico Physical Therapy program, Jessica Yeaton likes to strap on her cross-country skis and head to the snowy upper reaches of the Sandia Mountains for a workout.

But this week, Yeaton will heading to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics as a member of Australia’s cross-country ski team. It’s the 30-year-old’s second Olympic appearance: in 2018 she was in South Korea for the winter games.

Yeaton, who was born in Perth, Australia, lived in Texas and Dubai before her family settled in Anchorage, Alaska, when she was 12. “I moved from summer to the dead of winter,” she says. It was there that she first strapped on skis.

“I didn’t love it at first,” she says, speaking via Zoom from Davos, Switzerland, where her team has been training for the past few months. “I remember being like, ‘This is the hardest thing ever.’”

But Yeaton eventually realized she was actually drawn to intense endurance challenges, like cross-country skiing, running and mountain biking. She skied on her high school team and in college at Montana State University and then continued competing with a professional team for four years before coming to UNM for its three-year doctor of physical therapy program.

Yeaton’s mother is Australian and her father is American. Growing up, she spent holidays with family in Perth, which lies on the Indian Ocean in Western Australia, thousands of miles from the handful of ski areas located in the mountains of southeastern Australia.

“I was not super aware of skiing in Australia,” she says. “Someone contacted me in college and said, ‘Do you realize you could be skiing for their national team?’ When I graduated college I decided I wanted to give this a shot.”


Jessica Yeaton
I’ve really fallen in love with New Mexico big time from a training perspective, and the weather is so good!
Jessica Yeaton, Third-Year Physical Therapy Student

She has also gotten involved in the local cross-country community, which grooms the trails in the Sandias. With the help of ear buds, she found she could continue her didactic learning even while working on her endurance. “I would listen to lectures on repeat while I was driving, or even while I was skiing,” she says.

Her high-elevation training paid off. In 2020, Yeaton took first place at the American Birkenbeiner in Hayward, Wisc., the largest cross-country ski race in North America.

In Beijing, Yeaton will race in five events, two of which are sprints. “The last is one is 30k,” she says. “The longer, the better for me.”

Beth Moody Jones, PT, DPT, EdD, MS, chief of the UNM Division of Physical Therapy, was at first unaware that one of her students as an Olympian.

“It was her first year, she was in the middle of gross anatomy – a very tough courseload – and she contacted me to see if she could be a day late coming back to school,” Jones recalls. “She told me she had a chance to race in a cross-country race in Europe and it meant earning some money and could she stay and complete the race.”

At the end of Spring semester 2021 Yeaton approached Jones to see whether she could take a leave of absence to try for the Olympic team.

“She was unassuming and did not expect that we would be able to make that work,” Jones says. “Needless to say, I was all for her trying for this, and we worked on a plan that allowed her to leave and train. We are so proud of her, and I am so happy for her!”

Yeaton, who is postponing the start of her final three PT clinical rotations until after the Olympics, expects sports medicine will be the likely focus of her practice when she graduates later this year.

“The most important thing in my life is exercise,” she says. “Hand-down, I want to be active. My passion is for helping everyone else be as active as possible.”

Photos: Manuel Lusti

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