Steamboat’s Hannah Kearney considers goals after Olympic gold medal
Steamboat Springs — Hannah Kearney spent most of her life trying to reach that gold medal moment.
When it came in February on Cypress Mountain just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, in what has to be considered one of the defining freestyle runs in American history, Kearney buried disappointment from four years earlier and validated her single most desired goal.
But now that the Vermont native is there — an Olympic gold medalist, a World Cup season champion and a world champion — she’s trying to find ways for the gold medal to not define her.
“It’s always going to be with me and part of who I am,” said Kearney, who has spent her summer training in Steamboat Springs. “But I think that I also would like to have another identity. I don’t know what that is yet. I don’t want to be just known as just Hannah Kearney, the gold medalist. That’s something I’m incredibly proud of, but it’s a goal accomplished, and now it’s time for a new goal. …
“I’m learning about how I can use this opportunity to go beyond the skiing world.”
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
A night to remember
It’s not that Kearney is anywhere near done on skis. Her life inevitably changed after she threw down 27 seconds of hell in Vancouver, beating Canadian and favorite Jenn Heil by .94 points, a margin similar to a mercy rule in baseball.
But before this summer in Steamboat, she’d spent her entire life living in the same house in Vermont. In a span of two runs on that drizzly February night, she went from small-town girl to media darling. The requests were endless; the appearances immense.
“Hannah’s a pretty quiet person,” U.S. moguls coach Scott Rawles said. “She stays to herself. The biggest change for her in the last five months are more demands in her time.”
The medal brought a new kind of challenge.
“It was shockingly exhausting,” Kearney said. “I’ve trained for the physical fatigue but not for that social schedule. That involved talking to so many people and sharing your story. I appreciated the attention because it means people cared.
But you also give a little bit of yourself away each time.”
With the chance to get away this summer and continue her training, Kearney decided to come to Steamboat. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club allowed Kearney to use its facilities. She has worked with local Olympian Bobby Aldighieri to improve her acrobatic skills on the trampoline and has been going back and learning the basics of mogul skiing all over again.
“She’s had a great year last year,” Rawles said. “Even then there were ups and downs, but I think she made a great call going to Steamboat for a while and getting out of Vermont.”
The best ever?
Kearney was more relaxed Thursday at the water ramps at Bald Eagle Lake, even saying that her departure Monday from Steamboat would be tough. She has used her summer to mountain bike and hike across the valley, with Steamboat providing a backdrop of anonymity after she virtually had none.
Although Kearney talks about going back to school and figuring out ways to get beyond the gold medal, it’s hard to ignore her goal-oriented, success-driven personality.
“When she first came back to me so many years ago as the pigtailed, freckle-faced girl, she had a very authentic personality,” said Nick Preston, who started working with Kearney when she was 9 and was her personal coach through last season.
“In so many ways, that hasn’t changed. She’s still all New Englander and still a huge Red Sox fan. But now I think she realizes these are all just mileposts on her path through life. It’s important for athletes to look beyond. It empowers them to look beyond.”
Kearney has the chance in the next four years to become the greatest female moguls skier. No mogul skier has won back-to-back gold medals, and the 24-year-old Kearney still will be in her prime by the time the games hit Russia in 2014.
But is that what she wants?
Kearney said she plans to ski as long as she has the desire to do it, and judging by her focus Thursday at the water ramps, 2011 could be an even better year.
“Some motivation after the ultimate goal is accomplished is immediately lost because you reached the goal,” she said. “However, as a competitive athlete, as soon as you reach a goal, you set new one because that’s how you continue to stay motivated.
“That motivates me to strive for more success. I’ve had a taste of it, and once you’ve had a taste of success at the top, nothing else will do.”
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