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The People's Choice: Abby Vieira '20

Greg Kwasnik
Nearly a year after becoming the first athlete to compete for Trinidad and Tobago in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, Abby Vieira ’20, has been named Junior Sportswoman of the Year and People’s Choice Award winner by the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee.
It was a fitting end to a big year for Abby, who in 2019 became Holderness School president - and graduated as her class valedictorian. We recently caught up with Abby to chat about her recent athletic honors, what she’s been up to since graduation, and her plans for the future. Here’s what she had to say.

First of all, congratulations on being named Junior Sportswoman of the Year and People’s Choice Award winner! What was your reaction when you heard the news?
It sort of came as a surprise because obviously it has been months since I was in Lausanne, but I remember just getting a call and them saying “Oh by the way, we need you to film a video because you’re in the running for the People’s Choice Award and the Junior Sportswoman of the Year Award.” I was just like “Oh my gosh.” I remember my dad was really happy, because he grew up with the People’s Choice Awards. There was definitely excitement, for my parents especially. It was a great feeling.

What was it like to be the first athlete from Trinidad and Tobago to compete in the Winter Youth Olympic Games?
Before I went I was just a little nervous, because you always want to represent your country well and do well and everything like that. But once I was there and I realized that I was the only person from Trinidad and Tobago representing them, it kind of took on a whole new meaning other than just skiing. It was just trying to represent where I’m from in the best way that I can. I think that I got a lot more enjoyment out of it knowing that there were two reasons why I was there. I got to meet so many new people from different areas, and it was just a great learning experience, too.

What was the reaction from Trinidad and Tobago? They must have been excited to see you compete.
I think that for the good amount of time I was in Switzerland, my grandparents on both sides were definitely calling and saying how their family friends were talking about a skier from Trinidad and how crazy that is and how happy they were to be represented in a different area that they haven’t usually been. I think just hearing about that from my grandparents and hearing how happy they were to have that type of representation just meant a lot. And I actually remember when I finished one of my GS runs, this woman from Trinidad – I don’t know where she was from – drove to the race and said “Thank you for representing our country.” It felt so good just to know what I was doing was helping people and giving people a voice. It was just a really good feeling.

Your friends and teachers at Holderness must have been pretty proud of you, too. 
When I look back at the experience I had, I’ve always just thought about how accommodating the teachers have been and how connected they wanted to stay with me throughout the whole process. I even remember Ms. Sparkman sending me an email at the opening ceremony and just congratulating me and everything. That type of connection you have with the teachers – and the students, even, connecting with me while I was away – it’s just something that, and I say this all the time, you can’t get anywhere else. It made the experience so much more than what it was just because I knew that there were people back in New Hampshire rooting for me. So that felt great, and that’s definitely something that I always go back to when I think of the memories and the type of community that Holderness has.

Just a couple months after you returned to Holderness, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. You and your fellow students had to spend the last two months of school at home. Your graduation ceremony took place on Zoom. That must have been tough. 
I was definitely sad that I didn’t get to finish off my senior year as I’d planned, but I always just keep on going back to the experiences that I had, and I don’t think I would have changed that for anything. And even having school on Zoom and electives and activities on Zoom, I don’t think it changed how much I enjoyed being able to connect with people from my class, even though it was through a screen. I wouldn’t change the experience for anything because it taught me so much and it gave me quite a unique experience, of graduating via Zoom and everything. Even though it wasn’t what I had planned I think it got our class closer and we have a definitive thing that we can always remember our graduation by.

So you’re taking a gap year before heading to Williams College in the fall of 2021. Tell us what you’ve been up to since graduating. 
I was actually planning on this being my freshman year at Williams, but I think right after I graduated I was like “I probably want to take a year off and see where the virus stands” and then go into my freshman year.

In the fall/winter I was taking a career preparedness course through Boost Academy, where you work with companies and they give you a problem statement and it’s your job, with a cohort, to give your response. And then on the weekends I’ve been teaching English to kids in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. That’s been really fun. And I’ve been doing online classes on the side, just trying to do as much as I can online, but I’m really excited because in the spring I’m going to be taking a leadership course called the Global Citizen Academy. I’ve been trying my best to make it seem like a school year while also having a little extra free time.

So what are your plans for college? Have you picked a major?
I’m still undecided. I've been trying to use this year to just figure out what I want to concentrate in, and I think that has to do somewhere in the STEM fields, hopefully. That’s what I’m interested in. I’ve been doing a lot of computer science courses. I’ve just been trying to take some classes to learn a little more about it and see if that’s something I’m actually interested in. That’s something I’ve been looking into.
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