While most athletes get to the Olympics by being among the best in their sport, freestyle skier Elizabeth Swaney ended up in PyeongChang through a loophole.
On Monday, the Hungarian ran what’s been described as a “pedestrian” and “painfully average” run in the ladies’ halfpipe qualifiers.
She didn’t perform a single trick, placed last and—though it may go without saying—did not advance to the medal finals.
How was an amaetur athlete allowed to compete against world champions like Cassie Sharpe, you ask? She showed up. That’s it.
To become an Olympic freestyle skier, all one has to do is finish Top 30 in a certain number of qualifying events. Many of these events host less than 30 contestants, though. Swaney travelled the globe and “competed” in as many as possible, only not coming in last when an opponent wiped out on the halfpipe.
Whether you condemn or applaud her for hacking the system, there’s an important lesson to be learned here about seizing opportunity. Just like relatively attainable Olympic spots go unfilled, thousands of dollars in scholarships go unawarded every year because nobody applies.
Yes, applications can be long and technical. Dedicating yourself to the time-consuming process is a challenge when you’re already so busy working part-time, maintaining good grades and keeping up a social life. As much as it sucks to fill out profiles and answer essay questions, the only way to get given free money for school is to petition for it.
Swaney is in a privileged position, of course. Though most of us could never self-fund an Olympic campaign with such slim chances for gold, her hustle is admirable. Many students don’t even try for prize money because they assume they’re not eligible or good enough.
You are eligible. You’re good enough too, especially when few to no other applicants put themselves in the running.
Besides, not everything is based on grades. Scholarships might be, but bursaries are presented to those who demonstrate financial need. Are you currently working on a super cool project or business endeavor? There are probably grants out there for you. Many students dismiss all awards of monetary aid as the same thing.
You might not qualify for one if your marks are low, but do for another.
The research can indeed be overwhelming, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. (We’re here to help! Check out our guides on how-to make money back on school expenses, the dos and don’ts of a perfect application and quick ways to find and win scholarships now.)
On every career path, there are ways to get what you want your own way—be it with scholarships, getting into a dream university, nailing that job interview or, apparently, becoming an Olympian.
If there’s a fresh way to nail your goal, why not seize it if you can? You just might find your way onto the podium or be written a check that’ll erase your student debt.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.