It didn't come as a surprise when Laura Sherrill set her sights on attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, New York.
Growing up in Ketchikan, Sherrill had watched as her brother and sister both left to attend the academy after receiving congressional nominations. Her father, Troy Sherrill, also attended the academy.
"I feel like I've always known I wanted to go to the Merchant Marine academy," said Sherrill in a recent interview with the Daily News. "My father, he went there, and then it kind of solidified when my sister got accepted and went. I was in middle school. And then I was like, 'OK, well, my sister's going, my brother's probably going to go, this is something I can look into."
And with three congressional nominations and a spot secured as part of the academy's class of 2025, Sherrill is set to follow in their footsteps when the academy begins later this summer.
Sherrill's brother, Gerik, was nominated in 2017 by Sen. Dan Sullivan to attend both the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the U.S. Military Academy. In 2015, her sister, Ella Sherrill, was nominated by Sen. Lisa Murkowski to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Ella Sherrill also was nominated by then-Sen. Mark Begich for the Merchant Marine Academy that same year.
And this year, Laura Sherrill herself was nominated to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, by Murkowski, Sullivan and Rep. Don Young. The nominations were announced in early February.
Sherrill was one of nearly 40 Alaskans nominated by Murkowski this year, and was one of two Ketchikan students to receive a nomination — Kayhi senior Francis Sherman III also was nominated by Sullivan to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, as well as the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Nominations are necessary for admittance to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, although they don't guarantee entry. According to information from the Merchant Marine Academy, a candidate has to be able to pass a fitness assessment based on agility, speed, strength and endurance. A prospective student also has to submit ACT and SAT test scores, school records, letters of recommendation and be examined for disqualifying medical conditions.
From a parent's perspective, the nominations were welcome news.
"It's kind of an honor to even be nominated by the members of congress, and then to actually receive the appointment from the Academy, so it's the fruits of a long labor, basically," Troy Sherrill commented. "So it's kind of cool to see your kid be rewarded for all their hard work."
Troy Sherrill said that Laura had lots of options for post-high school education,such as the University of California Los Angeles, and that the family took a college tour in 2019, during her junior year at Kayhi to help inform her decision.
"We were on a big college road trip tour, and Laura's also visited the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy a couple of times, so she's got to lay eyes on it," Troy Sherrill said.
Sherrill started the process of applying to the U.S. Merchant Marines Academy during the first part of her senior year.
"(The process) can be almost up to a full year," she explained. "But for me, I started my senior year, in the fall, and then I had this extra year to reapply. So this has been like over a year for me."
There were many materials that Sherrill had to gather for her initial application.
"It's a very lengthy process," Sherrill explained. "First of all, you have to have good grades. You have to have a good resume, like clubs, sports, activities — you gotta be involved. And then fill out these applications, lots of interviews. There's a very lengthy medical clearing process. That takes like months and months. And then you also have to pass a physical fitness test."
But Sherrill was adamant that she didn't accomplish it alone.
"I definitely couldn't have done it without the support of my parents, my siblings, my teachers, Mr. (Robert) McClory (Kayhi counselor), he helped me out a lot," she said. "It's just kind of like a whole community thing. I feel very happy and very thankful for everyone that's helped me along in this journey."
Her parents helped keep her grounded during the entire process.
"I would call (my dad) before all of my interviews, and I would say, 'Dad, I'm so nervous, I don't know what to say,'" Sherrill remembered. "And then I would go over things with him."
Troy Sherrill said that his daughter also had to rely on help from her teachers for the actual application. She needed several letters of recommendation.
"It's something that the teachers and others have to kind of do for us, which involves work," Troy Sherrill noted, adding that he was thankful for the help.
But even with the support of a community behind her, Sherrill's journey wasn't without challenges.
"It was very stressful, because I tore my ACL and so I had to redo the whole medical thing over again," Sherrill said. "And that took the most amount of time.”
Sherrill also noted that Steven Becker of PeaceHealth Orthopedics and Dave Costa of Optimum Health and Wellness helped her along the way, in addition to her swim coach at Kayhi, Gary Crowe.
While Sherrill was accepted into the academy, there's still work to be done — "The journey has just started," she said.
Troy Sherrill said that the first year of the academy — which now all three of his children will have experienced — is "hell."
"It's not like she's going to be going there, having a lot of fun at first," he said.
To prepare for what is known as a physically demanding year at the academy, Sherrill has been spending time with her sister in Florida, getting adjusted to the heat of the East Coast and working on physical fitness.
The time in Florida is helping Sherrill prepare herself for what is to come, and she's been focused on running, swimming, eating right and staying healthy.
Sherrill is set to report on July 9 to "INDOC," the Merchant Marine Academy's boot camp that starts three weeks before the onset of regular academy classes. She is scheduled to graduate from the academy with the class of 2025.
"I'm working out all the time," she said. "I actually wrote myself a few letters to send myself right before I go into INDOC, because you get mail, and so I wrote down, like, 'You are powerful, you are strong, you can do this,'" she said.
And of course, Sherrill will be keeping in mind advice from her siblings as she starts her first year at Merchant Marine Academy.
"My brother and sister, they have been telling me like, 'When you go in, it's just a game," Sherrill said. "They've been giving me lots of tips."