Hannah Pennington says the third time is the charm, or at least the most meaningful. This is the third Paralympic Games that Hannah will compete in, representing the U.S. in alpine skiing. “I did not think it would happen,” she said in an interview with this Examiner today. Pennington has had a couple of years marked by injuries and rehabilitation, including a surgery to rebuild her hip that left her unable to walk for an extended period of time. When asked how she thinks she did make it, in spite of those difficulties, the elite athlete who has diplegic cerebral palsy (CP), which affects motor skills below the waist as well as overall balance, said that as she faced each painful day in bed or at rehab, all she could picture was being back on her skis. “Even if I never raced again, I needed to be on my skis,” she said. “It’s where I am happiest!”
Of special significance, too, is that her colleagues who train at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, CO are all in Vancouver, which means they will participate together tonight in the opening ceremonies at BC Place. "Being with them makes it even more awesome."
Pennington talked about motivation, a state of mind all humans wrestle with, but that athletes must confront in special ways, and maybe, she says, especially athletes with disabilities since “we cannot always count on consistency.” It is having known “good days,” though, that keeps her pumped. “The good is so good,” she insists, that she wants to repeat the feeling. This is the source of her determination to get up each day and put one foot in front of the other, striving to succeed.
At the age of six, she learned to ski with Denver’s Children’s Hospital “Ski Program” at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD). Her physician, Dr. Frank Chang, who pioneered the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis, also known as the “gait lab,” at Children’s Hospital in metro Denver, and volunteers as Medical Director for The Children's Hospital Sports Program, was instrumental in convincing Hannah and her family to try the program. Pennington’s mother, Betty, also spoke about the decision to enroll Hannah in the Ski Program. “It was so great for her and for us that there was a sport she could do and that she took to right away,” Betty said on a call from Vancouver today. Program Director Carol Page said she can still picture little Hannah as a child "in her red ski suit," adding that Hannah's passion and commitment for skiing continued to grow through her teens. It was when she was in college that Pennington decided to dedicate herself to the training needed for competition.
Mrs. Pennington talked about the “Proud Moms” campaign sponsored by Procter & Gamble for the Olympics in February and the Paralympic Games that open tonight. At a reception this morning, she and other parents were honored for their support and love of these athletes. P&G will donate one dollar to Team USA for every dollar pledged to “thank a mom” up to $100,000 through the end of the Paralympic Games on March 21. P&G offered to defray the costs of travel and accommodations so that every mother of a Team USA athlete could attend the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games. Betty Pennington said the gift was extraordinarily generous and made a difference not only for her family, but for so many others who simply could not have made the trip to Vancouver to celebrate the success of their athletes. “I used to work for P&G years ago before I moved to Colorado,” she said. “I recall they were a great company to work for then, and I am just so impressed now.”
Skier Pennington said she wants to remind everyone that there are resources for people with disabilities who think they may want to participate in sports. She urges budding athletes to contact Paralympic athletes, herself included, and to look into programs, including the ones at NCSD. Hannah invites communication with her via Facebook or her blog page.
Pennington competes in the slalom and giant slalom at Whistler Creekside scheduled for March 14.