This article was originally published by Austin Colbert in The Aspen Times.
When Margo McHugh submitted her application for the T2 Foundation grant, she had to write a letter on why she deserved it. She kept it simple, writing about her general love for skiing.
"What I talk about the most is how hard I've worked, how passionate I am," McHugh said. "Passion is the key because that is a big reason why I got the grant. I talk about what skiing meant to me and how my life revolves around it. That's what I want to do. It's what makes me happiest."
The T2 Foundation is a nonprofit organization based out of Park City, Utah, that supports skiers from all disciplines and from across multiple levels. In 2015, the foundation launched a junior team grant program aimed at skiers ages 14 to 19, with grants awarded anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on need and age.
Among the grand recipients this year is McHugh, 16, a junior at Aspen High School and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete.
"It's great. That will subsidize four to five races for the season, which is huge for us," said AVSC coach Austin Nevins, who leads the women's FIS program for the club. "I've watched Margo come up through the ranks and she's always been vocal and you can see that she cares and she wants to get better."
McHugh, a Chicago native, has skied most of her life. She began ski racing around age 9, shortly after moving to Aspen. In that time, she's developed into one of the nation's top downhill skiers for her birth year and has high hopes for the upcoming season.
"I want to really put myself into one thing and see how well I really can do. And I love skiing," McHugh said. "This grant allows me to take some of the weight off my back and have me focus on what's really important."
This winter she will go from the more localized U16 level to U19, and begin competing in FIS (International Ski Federation) races.
"This is when racing really starts for me. My points count," McHugh said. "This year I have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of. My ultimate goal is to ski in college, but really I'm going to work as hard as I can and see where it takes me. If I can go further than that, then I will."
And the T2 Foundation grant will certainly help. Ski racing is well-known for being financially burdensome, and the better a skier gets, the more important grants and donations are to fund the extensive travel and training required to compete at the highest levels.
"You have to market yourself; you have to sell yourself. You have to go above and beyond. I fundraised for my whole ski career," said Nevins, who grew up ski racing on the East Coast. "She is dedicated. You can see it. That work is paying off and we are excited to get into the season and see what we can do. The first year in FIS, it's tough. You are now racing the world. Age doesn't matter anymore."
On top of the higher-level competitions, McHugh said she wants to put more focus on technical racing this year. A gifted downhill skier, she knows fine-tuning her slalom and giant slalom skills will be important for getting onto a college team, where they only race in technical events.
McHugh's desire to extend ski racing beyond high school has gotten to the point where her other childhood sport, soccer, has taken a backseat.
McHugh was part of an AVSC group that spent time at Mammoth Mountain in California for a June camp and recently returned from Saas-Fee, Switzerland, for another. The FIS competition season will get underway next month with races held across North America and Europe.
Copper Mountain will host the first FIS alpine races of the season on U.S. soil from Nov. 14-17, with Aspen Highlands scheduled to host FIS races Jan. 20-25 and again in late March/early April.
Among McHugh's goals is to qualify for the U19 national championships at the end of the season.
"She's showed a lot of mental toughness at the camps and through the years and it shows how much she wants it. To us, as a coach, there is nothing more you want than that," Nevins said. "I think that's why the grants and those kind of things are coming her way."
The T2 Foundation has helped fund numerous high-level skiers over the years, including former AVSC athlete and current U.S. Ski Team member Alice McKennis.
If interested, McHugh has set up a GoFundMe page.