Big Dreams: Brett Denney |

Big Dreams: Brett Denney

Brett Denney advanced to the round of 12 on Friday in the Fourth of July Jumpin' & Jammin' Ski Jumping competition at Howelsen Hill.
Ben Ingersoll

Brett Denney spent five years training, competing and doing what it takes to be a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team when he decided it was time for a change.

“I had already decided to go back to school full-time,” Denney said. “I had a chance to compete in a couple of World Cups. Things didn’t go that well. … I knew the time had come.”

Brett Denney jumps last week in the Ski Jumping Extravaganza event in Steamboat Springs. Denney is among the skiers named to the U.S. Nordic Combined Team.

But it was what Denney had done before that moment that really made the difference. He had been named to the U.S. Ski Team in high school, but had never lost sight of the importance of a college education.

So while he continued to chase his Ski Team dreams, he attended classes at Colorado Mountain College, and then, when he moved to Utah to be closer to the team, he joined a U.S. Ski Team program at Westminster College.

The program is open to all U.S. Ski Team members. It awards credit hours to the team, and those hours are divided among athletes interested in pursuing a college education.

The athletes pay taxes and fees for the classes, but the rest is covered by the school. There is a system for allocating credits to the athletes based on seniority, but in most cases, the skiers have up to three years to wrap up their education after they are done skiing.

Other members of the Nordic combined team who’ve taken part in the program include Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. Several other athletes, including Adam Loomis, Ben Berend and Michael Ward, are currently participating in a similar USOC online program offered by DeVry University.

Denney said the process of getting through college was slow while he was competing, and he estimates that, by the time he is done, he will have spent seven years in college. But he said he probably would never have earned a degree without the Ski Team program and the help of Westminster College — a private liberal arts college in Salt Lake City.

“I’ve hit it pretty hard since I stopped skiing,” Denney said. “Most semesters, I’m taking between 21 and 22 credits so that I can get my degree sometime next fall.”

Denney said getting a degree while competing for the U.S. Ski Team is a difficult task, and he said athletes have to be careful not to take on too much.

“You have to find a balance,” Denney said. “It’s important to pursue your education, but if you push too hard, you end up not doing either very well.”

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