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Motivation, focus: former giant slalom athlete transfers his drive into successful academic career

Will Gregorak, a senior philosophy major, skiing down the slopes. Gregorak was one of the top 50 giant slalom skiers in the world and he said his competitiveness and focus has allowed him to do well as a student at Westminster College. (Photo courtesy Zeev Gur)

Will Gregorak, a 28-year-old philosophy senior at Westminster College, was one of the best alpine ski racers in the world. By the time he was 23, he was ranked the 32 fastest giant slalom skier in the world.

After a severe knee injury in 2014, Gregorak was not able to come back to his old strength and was forced to quit his athletic career.

For the last four years, Gregorak was studying philosophy at Westminster and will graduate this spring summa cum laude (with a GPA of 3.8 or higher).

Wiley Maple, lifelong friend of Gregoraks and another world cup ski racer, said Gregoraks is an insanely competitive genius who loves to have fun and hang out with his friends.

“I think that he has this mentality in himself, that he has to win at all things and that’s probably one of the reasons he does things,” Maple said. “Everything he will do in life, I think he will try and be the absolute best at.”

The Forum sat down with Gregorak to talk about his drive for excellence in all facets of life. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: What drove you to become one of the best ski racers in the world?

A: I’ve been innately competitive my whole life and I’ve always liked improving at things. That was one thing that is great about sport, and especially ski racing, is it’s really easy to sense and account for your improvement.

Q: Does this drive to be the best stop with skiing or does it translate into other sports?

A: Anyone who does any activity with me knows that I’m pretty competitive. I really enjoy doing things with a lot of focus. It is the same thing, I just really like improving at things. So even if it’s, volleyball, climbing or golf, I rarely do them just for kicks. The fun in it, for me, is focusing on what I’m doing and [I] try to do the best that I can.

Q: You also are an excellent student, right?

A: Well, I have a pretty good GPA. They gave me my summa cum laude robe for graduation, meaning that my GPA is above 3.93.

Q: Is your academic career your top priority, as ski racing was before?

A: Yes, definitely the primary focus. And because it’s my primary focus right now, I feel like I needed for myself to have good grades, because I’m not doing anything else that has any direction in my life at the moment or is working towards something bigger. So, if my primary thing was school, and I didn’t have good grades, I would probably just want to feel very good about myself.

Q: As a ski racer you were striving to be one of the best skiers in the world. What are your academic goals, did you set them out or did they come naturally?

A: Even before I was in college, in high school, I was a good student. I always felt like it was not acceptable to get B’s or C’s. I thought maybe that would change after I had spent six or seven years out of school doing ski racing. Then I came back, and I realized that I wasn’t really okay with not pleasing the professor or getting the best grade that I could. Even though I never felt like I need to do this well in school, when it comes to any given class, I’m just not okay with not putting in good work, I suppose.

Q: Are their similarities between the work and routine you put into ski racing and now being a student?

A: You think there might be a similarity in that. People who tend to do good in school have pretty good time management and ski racing, it was all portioned out, but I haven’t really taken that into school. I’m very much a procrastinator. Being very, very good didn’t mean anything [in ski racing]. It was all about being better than other people. I guess maybe it’d be different if they only allow a certain amount of people to get an A.

Q: Are there similarities between your ski racing life and your college career?

A: I suppose there is some kind of similarity between doing well at all things and I think the similarity mostly lies in the level of focus, you’re willing to give to it. Very simply, if you give your attention to it, if you’re patient towards it and understand how things fit together, I think that is the key to success in anything. For me being able to focus on the task at hand and give my attention to it has really been the common thing that worked for me.

Q: To become one of the best ski racers in the world you needed determination and drive, did ski racing leave you searching for something to concentrate that drive onto?

A: It certainly left me searching because ski racing encompasses your whole life, and I was very ambitious towards it. So since then, I have, throughout college, looked for that next thing. Like, ‘this is the thing that I know I want to do.’ That was what was good about ski racing. I never had any doubts that I wanted to do it or that it was worth my time to pursue. So yeah, ending it certainly left me searching and four years of college later, I’m still searching.

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Raffael Breu
Raffa is a junior communication major. He likes to slide down mountains dressed in spandex with two blanks strapped to his feet and call it alpine ski racing.

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