KC Oakley



Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

A: Craziest? This could apply to a lot of bad decision-making in college, but I think my adventures when traveling are more suitable. Hiking the Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, on Oahu, in Hawai'i stands out because it is totally epic and amazingly beautiful, but happens to be illegal. The stairway was originally built for the Coast Guard and was shortly accessible to avid hikers before they became a safety concern. The 2,120-foot, 3,922-step stairway ascends the Koolau mountain range along its ridge with dramatic cliffs on each side. There is also no legal access to the stairs and the guards show up around 3am.

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To access the ladder, hikers have to climb fences and take a route through land privately owned by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. On first attempt, we could not find the trail because it was 2am, and therefore, pitch black. We hid as the guard approached us and had to devise a plan to barter with him. Two people we had met while searching for the trail decided to approach the guard first and offer him a leafy, herby good in exchange for entrance. It worked. My friend and I did not have any of this good to exchange, but we figured money would work. It didn't. Apparently it is not as valuable in Hawai'i. When we called the guard out for letting our acquaintances through he threatened to detain us and call the cops. We played it safe and turned around. At this point we at least knew the location of the trailhead. The following morning, we made our second attempt and managed to beat the guard to the trailhead. With flashlights and not a clue what we were doing, we ascended the ladders. Atop the humid and windy mountain, we waited with about 8 other adventurous hikers for what would be one of the most beautiful and memorable sunrises of my life. What also came with the sunrise was the realization of exactly where I was. I grabbed onto the railings of the slippery, rusted, and loose stairway, peering down the vertical cliffs on each side of me and the gaps I had jumped in order to make it where I was standing. This hike is a balance between exhilarating, completely terrifying, and yes, absolutely crazy, but the jagged steps, green mountains, and sunlight that bounced off the clouds and ocean below make me think about how excited I am to do it again!

Q: How have you been able to balance all of the years of higher education you’ve achieved while on the US team?

A: High coffee consumption. Only half kidding. I am not sure if there is necessarily a method to the madness, but it helped me to look at education as an experience instead of a task. Of course there is classwork and tests, but you also learn something new every day and are provided with more opportunities because of it. In the process, you find many things you're passionate about and meet amazing people who will share new experiences with you as friends or help you through your career as mentors and colleagues. 

At the base of it all, a person should be able to say where they see themselves in 5 and 10 years. They need to have an ultimate goal (i.e. the Olympics and/or a Master's in Business Administration). From there, it requires a high level of planning and prioritization. It is similar to competitive mogul skiing in that sometimes you have to push through the daily training, setbacks, and distractions in order achieve the ultimate goal. When you're creating memories with new friends over new passions along the way though, the daily grind seems to fade into the mixture of work and play. 

Q: How would having a fully funded U.S. Ski Team affect your career in mogul skiing?

A: It is still unbelievable to me that the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that does not support its Olympic athletes. We commit ourselves completely to our sport and compete for our country, but the support and dedication is not mutual. I believe that at times, being an unfunded athlete took away from my training and performance. I was so worried about how I would accrue the funds in order to compete instead of maximizing my training. Having the whole U.S. Freestyle Mogul Team fully funded would create both a waterfall and reciprocal effect by allowing far more athletes to commit themselves fully to the sport, get the training they need to reach their goals, and ultimately unlock their full potential for achievement. In return, these athletes would produce more and better results for the U.S. Ski Team and the United States.