Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Back in October, Jessica Yeaton, a 30-year-old student in the doctor of physical therapy program at the University of New Mexico, requested a leave of absence so that she could train in Switzerland for cross-country skiing.
Yeaton told Dr. Beth Moody Jones, the division chief for UNM Physical Therapy, that she wanted to make the Olympic Australian team again, as she did in 2018.
Jones responded: “Again?”
Jones and many in the DPT program did not know that Yeaton spent her off-time as an elite skier and had competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. That’s an example of how unassuming Yeaton is.
Yeaton never mentioned her ski skills when she applied and interviewed to be in the three-year DPT program at UNM in January 2019, Jones said. When Yeaton asked for the leave of absence, Jones encouraged her to go and reach her goals.
A couple of weeks ago, Yeaton posted on her Instagram that she made the Australian team and would be competing in the Beijing Olympics.
Yeaton is competing in five events that span three weeks: the 15K skiathlon (Saturday), the skate sprint (Tuesday), the 10K classic (Feb. 10), the team sprint (Feb. 16) and 30K skate (Feb. 20).
“My favorite event is the 30K because I prefer skate skiing and longer races that emphasize endurance more (it will take around an hour and a half),” Yeaton wrote in an email to the Journal. “The hard part about that is that it’s at the end though (it’s actually the last event of the entire games), so I have to make sure I don’t tire myself out too much by then!”
For the past three years, Yeaton has called Albuquerque home, and the Sandia Mountains have been a great place to train. In addition to skiing, she goes trail running and mountain biking.
“Sandia Nordic Ski Club grooms trails all winter, which has been huge in terms of facilitating my training,” Yeaton said. “It has been great to become a part of the cross-country ski community in Albuquerque; I also think the high altitude training has made me fitter than ever. It doesn’t hurt that the weather is always perfect – so I always want to get outside!”
During Yeaton’s training, she found a clever way to stay up to date with her classes.
“She tells the story of how she would put the lectures on a recording, stick her earbuds in and listen to her lectures on repeat as she was training,” Jones said. “She’s a great person and I’m really proud of her.”
Yeaton is one of Jones’ top students, Jones said. Yeaton excelled during her first year, which included Gross Anatomy, a demanding class that Jones describes as “a rite of passage.”
Yeaton thrived in Gross Anatomy and became a teaching assistant for the class the following year in 2020.
When Yeaton returns from the Olympics she will begin her final three physical therapy clinical rotations and graduate later this year. She expects sports medicine will likely be the focus of her practice.
“Studying Physical Therapy at UNM has taught me so much about injury prevention and rehab,” Yeaton said. “As someone who has always struggled with overuse injuries, this has been incredibly valuable. I am definitely the least injured I’ve been in a long time, which allows me to train more. The program is also an incredible support network of classmates and faculty who motivate me to ski fast at the Olympics!”
Yeaton was born in Perth, Australia. Her mother is Australian and her father is American. She lived in Texas and Dubai before her family settled in Anchorage, Alaska, where she began skiing when she was 12.
She skied on her high school team and in college at Montana State.
In the 2018 Winter Olympics, Yeaton competed in five events, the most of anyone on the Australian team.
She was 41st in the 10K freestyle and 12th in the team sprint with Barbara Jezersek, which was Australia’s best cross-country result at an Olympics. Her other results included 50th in the 15K skiathlon, 48th in the sprint classic, and 42nd in the 30K.
In 2020, Yeaton took first place at the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin, the largest cross-country ski race in North America.
Emailing the Journal from the Olympic Village in Beijing, she said she is a much different athlete at this Olympics than in 2018.
“The biggest difference so far has been related to COVID and having to be so careful trying to avoid it,” Yeaton said. “Last Olympics there was a lot of interaction between teams, socializing at the dining hall, etc. This time it’s been daily COVID tests and keeping a tight team bubble – no thoughts of exploring the city or anything like that, which I did a few times last Olympics! I also have higher expectations for my performance than I did four years ago, so I think I have put more pressure on myself this time around.”