As a former professional ski racer, Hannah is no stranger to competition. In fact, she’s been fighting against the effects of a debilitating disease from her youngest days.
Born with cerebral palsy, Hannah struggles with balance, muscle strength and movement, especially in her legs. For many with cerebral palsy, the simple act of walking can be difficult. But with the help of Children’s Hospital Colorado – not to mention a laser-sharp focus and determination – Hannah, age 35, has come further than most could ever dream.
Hannah was only 5 years old when she had her first surgery at Children’s Colorado. It was the beginning of a long line of procedures to help align her limbs and relieve tension resulting from cerebral palsy. She started skiing the following year at the urging of her doctors.
“My doctors at Children’s Colorado encouraged me, knowing a sport would motivate me for rehab,” said Hannah.
Hannah started skiing with Children’s Colorado’s groundbreaking sports therapy program, Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health. The program harnesses the rehabilitative power of sports and recreation to promote healing in children and young adults with physical disabilities.
It wasn’t long before Hannah fell in love with skiing. She participated in the Children’s Colorado sports program until graduating from high school, and a few years later she made the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. She went on to compete in her first Paralympic Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City, where she placed fifth in the Giant Slalom.
The following year, Hannah had to undergo yet another surgery, but she wasn’t deterred. She worked fervently on her recovery and returned to compete in the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino, Italy, followed by the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. She even managed to take a break from her training in 2007 to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.
All the while, the experts at Children’s Colorado were there for Hannah, helping her to maximize her mobility. Throughout every surgery, every procedure, the doctors helped her to focus on the future and never lose sight of her dreams.
“Over the years, I’ve put my trust in these doctors’ expertise about how my body would change,” said Hannah. “They preserved my mobility. They taught me to always prepare for what I might do next – and never look back.”
Seeking new challenges
By her early 30s, ski racing had taken a toll on Hannah’s body. No one would have blamed her if she’d given up on her athletic pursuits at that point. But giving up isn’t really Hannah’s style. She retired from ski racing at the age of 31 but soon found a new sport of choice: flat water kayaking.
“I tipped over pretty much immediately,” said Hannah of her first kayaking experience. “And then tipped again every day for a full week – every day but one, I think. It wasn’t the start I was looking for, but I’ve never been easily deterred.”
Since taking up the new sport, Hannah has had to undergo additional surgeries to battle against the weakening effects of cerebral palsy, but her focus in strong. Today, she has visions of competing on the U.S. Paralympic kayaking team at the Brazil summer games in 2016.
“My confidence is absolute,” she said. “It has to be.”