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Omaha Magazine

Known For Speed, and Finding Time for Still Lifes

Jul 07, 2020 11:34AM ● By Chris Hatch
Creighton University sophomore Skylar Heinrich, paintbrush on lip

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is the art Skylar Heinrich creates when she is painting; the gentle discourse between brush and canvas as she stares out at the morning sun shimmering off the stillness of Youngman Lake.

Then there is the art she creates when she is on the pitch; the frenetic, attacking blur of her cleats as they weave across the artificial turf towards the defense at Morrison Stadium under the artificial full moon of stadium lights on full blast.

Same artist. Different mediums.

“I got into an art class my freshman year of high school. I have been doing it, casually, ever since...when I have time. I’ll start a project, just because it works a different side of my brain,” said the Creighton sophomore majoring in biology who hopes to become a veterinarian.

When the reigning Big East freshman of the year is on the pitch, analyzing the line of the defense and then scorching the field on her way towards the goal, she’s constantly moving. So, it’s in the quiet moments, when she gets that rare time to catch her breath, to enjoy that two-syllable moment of college athlete bliss called down time that she gets to pull out her easel and exercise in a whole other way.

“I tend to paint at the end of the day. I would do it in between stuff as a little break. I always did my workouts in the morning, I would go paint outside and then come in to do homework.”

While her newest form of self-expression involves color palettes and the unique perspective of capturing a moment or an emotion, her old love—the one that she’s been playing since she was kicking a size 3 ball around in her backyard with her older sister—was almost always there.

Almost.

“I quit for a little bit,” she said, laughing. “When I got hit in the face by the ball. And I remember thinking ‘this is not my sport’.”

Fear of facial ricochets behind her, she climbed the ranks of youth soccer in Omaha, starting out in her local recreational league.

Like any art, though, Heinrich’s game took time to develop and patience to form, and it found itself in need of a place to be showcased.

When she tried to make the leap to a more competitive division, she didn’t make the team.

“I [initially] played for a rec team, and when it came time for select, I actually did not make the team and the coach said ‘actually we don’t have any spots for you.’”

Heinrich wasn’t the type to be discouraged. She had her blank canvas when she joined a new team in Elkhorn, and she was determined to get to work.

Work, she did. Even having her parents drive her for hours at a time to get her to a developmental program in Kansas City.

“If someone would’ve asked us if we’d consider driving to K.C. three times a week for soccer, the answer would have been a hard ‘Not a chance’,” said Heinrich’s father, Kevin. “But we did, and if all things were equal I’d do it again. Getting to spend the time, even driving, with your teenager was pretty special.”

When she’s standing in front of her paintings, she starts small. Humble. Then she puts in the work.

“I kind of just see where it goes,” said Heinrich. “I always start off with a little pattern that I think of and then I get going and think ‘Oh, this could look cool’ and it always starts off with a plan and I just go from there.”

It’s a methodology that has served her well as she moved from a decorated player at Elkhorn High School—culminating in a state championship for her team and over 100 goals in three years—to her time spent in FC Kansas City’s Development Academy. It’s what has allowed her to continue to excel in her time at Creighton, where she found herself notching 11 goals and two assists.

This human perpetual motion machine finds a stillness with a brush in her hand that defenders and opposing coaches wish they saw between the lines.

Along the way, Heinrich’s brought her friends, putting up assists numbers that have nothing to do with a ball, or feet, or putting one into the net. Whether they’re willing participants, or looking at their own paintings with raised eyebrows and the side-to-side head vibrato of a true skeptic, like her family pet.

“My dog would just look at me the entire time like, ‘this is what you do for fun? Really?’.”

“I was really impressed, it was really good, nothing like the art projects I recall from art class.  Now we have some of her paintings framed and on the wall in our house,” said her father about some of her early work and how it’s progressed.

At the end of her painting sessions, Heinrich likes to trade canvasses in a kind of paint-stained handoff that has since become a tradition. Artwork from many of Heinrich’s friends ends up on her dorm room wall, a rogue’s gallery of pieces passed, given, and gathered, a constellation of creation for any passersby to see from her constantly open door.

With both her team and her park painting sessions curtailed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus this spring, she found herself in the choppy waters of the unknown. Working out solo, painting from the back porch of her house, waiting for the time when she can bring her unique flair back to the pitch and back to the paint.

“I have a soccer field that’s about five minutes away. I’ve been using that a lot to get in my juggling [the soccer ball] and fitness stuff everyday.”

With all her past successes, she’s already found the perfect frame. Her blank sheet awaits. Now, all she needs is someone to hand her the brush. 

Visit gocreighton.com/sports/womens-soccer for more information

This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.