A Few Minutes With Alexa Halko
2016 Paralympian Alexa Halko, training at Illinois for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, speaks with College of Applied Health Sciences media relations specialist Vince Lara-Cinisomo about Illinois' Paralympic training site, the Disability Resources & Educational Services unit and her future plans.
VINCE LARA: Hello, this is Vince Lara in the communications office at the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois. Today I spend a few minutes with Alexa Halko, 2016 Paralympian training for the 2020 games here at Illinois.
All right. I'm with Alexa Halko, Paralympian. Alexa, now, you competed in Rio in 2016. You were the youngest US athlete there.
How is it going to be different now that you're training for 2020? And do you feel like you're more of a mentor in this role? Is it any different for you at all?
ALEXA HALKO: Yes, I believe it'll be different, just because I've had more experience to get to know the sport a little better. I've been in it for-- I started Paralympic-wise in 2014. So I've really gotten to be around more experienced athletes. And I feel like that will just keep building on itself, obviously, over the years. So I think that's what will be different in 2020.
VINCE LARA: What did you learn from 2016 that you're trying to apply to your 2020 training?
ALEXA HALKO: I learned that you're going to have hard years. After 2016, it was such a frenzy. I was like, well, this is awesome. It's your first Paralympic Games. You don't even know what to think after that.
But the year after, in 2018, I didn't have the best year. And I kind of just went with it and just stayed with it. But it kind of showed me that you're not going to have the best years every year. You just got to go with it and just keep going, I guess.
VINCE LARA: Now, you loved basketball when you were growing up. So how did you transition into racing? What got you into that?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, so I actually played basketball and track at the same time. So it wasn't really like an, oh, I'm choosing basketball over track. Even though I do love basketball still, track was just my main one, I would say, my main sport, just because I liked the solo part of it. I like a team, and that's super awesome. But for me, I feel like just going solo and just doing my own thing is what I like.
VINCE LARA: OK. Yeah. Now, you were born in Oklahoma. Your family moved to Virginia. How did you end up here at Illinois?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah. So I actually have been looking at this program since I started, because it's commonly known that this is, like, the best program you can be in for the wheelchair track world. And so it's always been an aspiration for me to come here since I was, like, 14. So I feel like I was just hoping and just keep training so I would come here.
VINCE LARA: Did you have any interaction with Coach Blakeney at all beforehand? Or was that something that was talked about in Paralympic circles, like, oh, Illinois is a great program?
ALEXA HALKO: Well, yeah, it's always known to be the best program you can go to. So yeah, it is commonly known. And I would always see Coach Adam at competitions.
So I would always see him. And he would always be with the Illinois team. So I would hang out with them and know them. So it's always been, I see them. And I've been aware that they're around.
VINCE LARA: How much of your deciding to come to Illinois was based on even academics, beyond what DRES has in the wheelchair racing? Did you factor that in as, Illinois is a great school, too?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, no, for sure. It's awesome that I can continue my education, but also be at such a great training program. And that just works, because I don't want to just drop everything school-wise, but still keep going with my dream of racing and continuing my Paralympic, I guess, career. So I think it's just the best of both worlds, because what could be better than this setup?
VINCE LARA: Absolutely. What are you studying at Illinois?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, so I'm a communications major.
VINCE LARA: OK. So this is perfect.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, actually.
VINCE LARA: That's great. Now, you're still so young. You're 20?
ALEXA HALKO: I'm 19.
VINCE LARA: You're 19.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah.
VINCE LARA: So what's next for this? How long do you expect you'll compete? And then after that, will you coach? Do you see yourself as more of a mentor role?
ALEXA HALKO: I've never seen myself as a mentor, to be honest. I think coaches are awesome. I just never have put myself in that position.
I do like outreach and seeing the new kids come up, so maybe possibly in the future. But yeah, we'll just have to see. I definitely just hope to keep training, keep competing, and just see where it kind of goes from there.
VINCE LARA: Well, how long do you think you'll compete? Do you see 2024? Do you start to look and say, this is probably the last one I can do?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah. I feel like if you're in these cycles, you're just thinking about, oh, the next games. You get in such a cycle mindset. And so I think I'll go probably until 2024, maybe later. I'll be here till 2022. And then whatever I do after that, I'll probably stay here maybe.
VINCE LARA: Yeah, there's grad programs.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, no, exactly.
VINCE LARA: Got to consider AHS.
ALEXA HALKO: Yep. So yeah, it might just go on from there. But we'll see.
VINCE LARA: What do you think about beyond sports? What's the career for you? So you're studying communications now. Do you hope to break into that field?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, I definitely was thinking about something Paralympic-wise in communications. I think that would be really cool, just because I know a lot of the Paralympic track world-wise. And I feel like doing something with that, not just completely blowing it off-- doing something with would be really cool, because I've been so in this world for a while.
VINCE LARA: With the USOPC or something in that range? OK.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, maybe.
VINCE LARA: Mm-hmm. And now that you're here at Illinois, where do you see your future beyond school and work? Do you feel like you could settle here because of how great the training site is?
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah. I'm not really set on a certain location to live. Just because this program is so awesome, I know so many people who have stayed here just for the program. And that makes me think, hey, maybe that might be a good option, because so many people have succeeded from staying here. So it would be a good option, for sure.
VINCE LARA: What would be your advice to somebody who aspires to reach the Paralympics or even compete? Maybe they don't make the team, but they're in the training process for it.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, no. Definitely study, not in the school sense, but study your favorite racers. I think that's kind of something that helped me. I just was observing my favorite racers and just--
VINCE LARA: Who were your favorite racers?
ALEXA HALKO: So I always looked up to Tatyana (McFadden). She's the best woman--
VINCE LARA: And now you get to train with her.
ALEXA HALKO: Yeah, exactly. And that's been an aspiration, because this is the program to be in, and then to race against or compete with some great teammates. But yeah, so just observing and just-- people say it all the time-- but just do it. Just keep going with it.
You're going to have hard years. And it's not going to go the way you always want it to go. But it's just about staying with it, because that's what's got me here. So I'm going to keep going.
VINCE LARA: My thanks to Alexa Halko. This has been "A Few Minutes With."