INSIDE THE DEN: Paul Sheils ’15

Each month in celebration of BMA’s 50th anniversary, we present to you a fellow academy alumnus/alumna. Join us as we look “Inside the Den”, learn about how the academy has evolved over time, and gain new insight on how the school shaped these Burkie Bears’ lives in ski racing and in life.

Since its inception in 1970, the academy has been home to 1,193 students including 36 who have gone on to compete in the Olympics and 145 who have been members of national teams representing the USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Above and beyond the athletic success of its alumni, BMA has always embraced a progressive educational model that focuses on engendering creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving in all of its graduates.

This month we present to you Paul Sheils, class of 2015. Paul grew up in Rochester, NY and followed in the footsteps of his older siblings who all attended Burke. He graduated from Williams College in 2020 and is now teaching biology in a public high school in Baltimore, MD as a member of America Corps Teach for America program.

Why did you choose to attend BMA?

My older siblings, Catherine, Charlie, and Hope all attended Burke before me. I was passionate about skiing from a young age and by the time I reached high school, I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.

What drew you to the academy?

I grew up skiing in Rochester, NY. In fifth or sixth grade, I tagged along with my older brother, Charlie, for my first summer skiing camp at Mt. Hood. I loved being outside all day and knew that I wanted to follow him and my other siblings to Burke.

What did you do after graduating?

I spent a post-graduate year at Burke before attending Williams College. In college, I continued my ski career while studying biology and history.

What was your professional journey after college?

I am currently a first-year Teach for America corps member in Baltimore, MD. I teach biology at a public high school in the city. I plan to apply to medical school at some point in the next two years.

What memories stand out the most from your Burke days?

I remember going on my first mountain bike ride. I trailed the group down Moose Alley, crashing a number of times. I eventually grew to enjoy mountain biking and still return to the area for rides.

I remember lining up on high meadows pass with my classmates at the beginning of timed hike.

When I was a freshman, I had the opportunity to forerun a Nor-Am Super G on Dippers. I borrowed a friend’s Go-Pro and shot some footage that was shown at graduation that year.

I played my guitar at the BMA talent show. I was reluctant to perform in front of other people, but I remember finishing my song and hearing my classmates cheering for me. That made me so happy.

What was your favorite workout at BMA?

Field circuits.

What is a memorable academic experience from your time at BMA?

My classmates and I debated mass incarceration in David Chamberlain’s class. We were reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

What lessons did you learn at BMA that you’ve carried forward in your adult life?

Darrell used to say that training is not linear, but your mindset needs to be. Adopting that mindset was and continues to be a challenge for me, but skiing gave me a chance to work on that. I learned that if you work really hard on something, you become invested enough for the results to make you unhappy. That’s just what it takes to be really good at what you do. The ability to appreciate every moment, despite whatever stakes I construct in my mind, was a skill I started developing at Burke.

 What projects and passions keep you busy now?

Teaching has challenged me in new ways and helped me to appreciate the opportunities I had in high school. Baltimore City schools opened virtually this fall, so I’ve been able to host classes from my parents’ condo at Burke. Lately, going for hikes and rides in this incredible corner of Vermont has been very restorative for me.

What is your relationship to skiing now?

I still love skiing more than almost anything else. If dreams of being a world cup skier ever go away, they haven’t yet.