Occupation: Competitive Cross-Country Skier, student of Physical Therapy
College: Montana State University in Bozeman
Current City: Albuquerque, New Mexico
“I truly believe the key to both physical and mental health is being able to participate in the activities someone wants to,” says ASD alum, professional athlete and physical therapist in training Jessica Yeaton.
Like many of Yeaton’s kindergarten and elementary school classmates at the American School of Dubai, her father’s work in the oil industry brought her to Dubai in 1998. Her kindergarten to sixth-grade years at ASD changed how she saw the world, she says, but it was just one chapter in a childhood that unfolded all around the globe, beginning in her birthplace of Perth, Australia, and at age 12, taking her to Anchorage, Alaska where she first took up skiing.
Today, she skis competitively for the Australian National Cross-Country Ski team, having competed around the world. She is also pursuing a career in physical therapy, motivated by both her personal experience with physical therapy and her belief that exercise is the key to health, on both an individual and societal level.
“Throughout my career as a ski racer, I incurred countless injuries that impacted my ability to train and be as active I wanted,” she says.
Working with physical therapists has helped her overcome many of these injuries, to which she attributes both her success as an athlete and her overall happiness. Now, she wants to help others overcome physical limitations so they can stay active and be fulfilled.
After beginning down the career path of physical therapy in studies at Montana State University in Bozeman and at Alaska Pacific University, and now, she’s in physical therapy school at Albuquerque, New Mexico. We caught up with her between classes in Albuquerque to talk sand vs. snow, being a team player, and knowing when to ask for help.
On taking up a snow sport after growing up in the desert:
JESSICA YEATON: I started skiing when I moved to Anchorage. It was pretty crazy moving from Dubai to Anchorage in the middle of winter. It was my first experience with “real” winter; I remember having to invest in an entirely new wardrobe — I think I only owned shorts up until that point — and spending all my free time sledding or playing in the snow. In that sense, I think my appreciation for all things winter was greater due to my time spent in Dubai; it was so different to what I was used to that I loved every part of it.
On balancing individual drive and determination with being a good team member:
JY: While skiing is a very individual sport, the training aspect of it is actually like a team sport. I have always been a member of a team, in high school, college, and professionally. I have spent thousands of hours training with my teammates, and it is something to which I strongly attribute my success as an athlete. My teammates and I push each other on a daily basis; when we were so tired we felt like breaking, we were always there to encourage each other, knowing it would move us forward.
Even though many of our pursuits are and goals are “individual,” we rely on others to help facilitate reaching our goals. Even if our goals are similar to our competitors, it is important to remember that we are often stronger together.
We can learn from each other, and improve with the help of others, more than we could on our own. I think this applies to all aspects of life — not just skiing. It’s also something that has become especially apparent while studying with my classmates in PT school!
On knowing when to ask for help, and when to power through on your own:
JY: From my experience, I think that both myself and others often wait too long to seek help. This concept is highly applicable to physical therapy; most people wait to seek help for an injury only due to pain or the fact that it is severely limiting their ability to perform a task. Often, there are tons of things that could have been done earlier to prevent getting to that point!
From my experience as an athlete, I have often felt alone in my problems, but when I’ve finally reached out to teammates and coaches, I realize I’m definitely not the only one struggling. This serves as a reminder that it’s always better to seek help early on and to keep in mind that, odds are, there are others around you who are dealing with similar things and who will be able to help.
On her early years at ASD:
JY: Even though it was so long ago, I have really great memories from field trips during my time at ASD. One that stands out, is a trip to Snoopy Island in Fujairah that we did as part of a marine biology class in grade 6. I remember snorkeling and identifying all different types of marine wildlife (including sharks!) and thinking it was way too cool to be a school-related activity. I had so many great hands-on academic experiences like these. When I look back on my time there, I remember learning being fun; I was always excited to go to school and there was always an amazing academic experience outside of the classroom to look forward to. Transitioning to school back in the US made this very apparent; I realized very quickly how exceptional my time at ASD had been.
On where she’ll go next:
JY: One thing I have learned is to not make plans too far out, as life is always taking me in directions I didn’t expect! I could see myself spending some time in Albuquerque after I graduate — or finding a job somewhere else in one of the western U.S. states where I could explore the outdoors, like Montana or Utah. I think there is a high probability that I will end up back in Alaska as well. There is definitely something special about the mountains there that might draw me back!