Nearly a week has passed since the Paralympic flame was extinguished in Vancouver. The U.S. took home thirteen medals. This Examiner has imagined the stories told, the gleaming medals put in cases or frames, and the memories that are forever part of those athletes’ lives. She followed a couple of the athletes home, asking them to describe what it all means and what lies ahead for them.
Hannah Pennington, Colorado’s own Paralympic skier, sounded relaxed during the conversation, and said the experience of being in Vancouver was nothing short of “incredible” and “highly emotional.” Pennington said she felt all the more touched and grateful to be there since these Games were most likely her last. She has said officially that she is retiring from ski racing, although she is “not slamming the door shut.” If a sponsor were to come into her life, she may consider racing again. But, the decision, she noted, is both financial and physical. Having overcome all that she did in the past two years to qualify for the 2010 Games, Pennington is committed to her health. “I’d prefer not to have surgery ever again if I could help it,” although she is certain her left hip will need attending to one day in the same way her right hip did two years ago. This athlete will always ski. “It’s in my blood.” Ski racing is a different animal, though. “I previously felt invincible, but now…” Pennington trails off and is quiet for a moment. “Now, I’m ready to think about what is next in my life.”
Trained as an EMT and moved by her volunteer opportunities at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Pennington imagines a career in medicine, most likely radiology. She is looking at schools and hopes to complete her studies within the next year or two. Having been both the caregiver and the patient, Pennington believes she is well-suited to help others through their medical experiences.
Looking ahead, she knows there will be projects and volunteer work that will fuel her as she pursues her studies and builds a career. Among the many interests she has, working to help kids and youth with disabilities through the Challenged Athletes Foundation is a big one. “Sports changed my life. I love helping other kids and people with disabilities realize they can do great things by getting involved in sports.”
Looking back, Pennington reflected aloud how terrific it was to be on the hill watching her teammates and friends win medals. Alana Nichols took the gold in Women’s downhill, sitting class, and Giant Slalom. Nichols also won silver in the Super-G and Slalom. Danelle Umstead won two bronze medals in Women’s Super Combined Slalom and Women’s downhill, visually impaired divisions. “It was so special to be there and share their wins with them. It is something I will never forget. We are friends for life,” Pennington said with confidence and admiration.
Pennington trains at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park, CO along with Nichols and Umstead. Adam Hall from New Zealand who won gold in Men’s Slalom, standing, also trains at NSCD. Starlene Kuhns, administrative coordinator of the Competition Center at NSCD, said she and her trainers were heading out on Saturday, March 26, for the U.S. Adaptive Alpine National Championships in Big Sky, Montana. When the competition ends on April 3, “we get some rest,” says Kuhns. After that, she does a two-week summer camp in Mount Hood, OR. She will return to the Competition Center in October.
Read more of this Examiner’s interviews with and musings about Paralympians after the Games.