Olympian Hannah Hardaway: Freestyle Skiing

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by Faye Rapoport

Hannah Hardaway’s star shines bright on the U.S. Ski team. She placed sixth in mogul skiing at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, UT. After two seasons of knee problems, Hardaway broke through in 2000-2001 when she placed third in the year-end moguls standings. Ten days after earning her first career World Cup win on the Olympic course in Deer Valley, Utah,

Hardaway won the qualifying round in her World Championships debut. She ended up 14th, but rebounded with a third-place finish nine days later at the World Cup at Sunday River, Maine, a second place in Japan, and finished the World Cup season with a second victory at the finale in Himos, Finland. She also won her second consecutive U.S. moguls title that March.

Hardaway made the U.S. team at 16, won five junior U.S. national titles and the 1997 junior world title in Finland. She just missed a berth at the 1997 World Championships, and in early 1998, her knee troubles began. Her promising career was derailed by two knee surgeries – one in 1998 and one in 1999. The problems began when she blew out her left ACL, MCL and meniscus at a minor (Nor-Am) event in Lake Placid, New York, that she was using as practice.

Hardaway is an all-around athlete whose talents aren’t limited to the slopes. She started skiing at age 6, and gave up gymnastics for the sport. She says gymnastics gave her the best base for everything else, including team sports. As a freshman shortstop in high school, Hardaway drove in the game-winning run in the semifinals of the 1994 state softball tournament. She also helped the Moultonborough Panthers come from behind to win a volleyball state title and continued her softball career at Cornell University, where she played center field.

Hardaway has always been a clutch player and team member, and correlates being in a moguls start gate to being at bat with the game on the line. “The bottom line is that when I’m in the gate, I’m comfortable,” she says. “I just love pressure.”


Foot.com: First, tell us a little about how you got started as a skier, and what appealed to you about mogul skiing.

Hardaway: I officially started skiing moguls when I was 11 and joined the Killington Freestyle Ski Team. Honestly, the most appealing thing about mogul skiing was that my brother wanted to do it, and being the typical little sister I wanted to be like my brother. But what I learned to love about mogul skiing was that everyone has their own style.

When I am watching an event, I can usually pick out who the competitor is three bumps out of the gate just by watching the way they ski.


Foot.com: What kind of training do you do year-round?

Hardaway: We are on the road competing basically from November to March, then we have the month of April off to chill. We start cross-training again in May–a lot of weights, plyos, agility etc. I personally grew up playing lots of different sports so I like to incorporate mountain biking, tennis, hiking and the like into my routine. I also do a lot of yoga and pilates.


Foot.com: Do you do any specific exercises to increase the strength of your lower legs or feet?

Hardaway: We do a lot of squats, leg press and those kind of exercises, but a lot of our lifting incorporates balance and stability as well, so we will do our squats on dina discs or on top of a pysioball. As for foot strengthening, we don’t really do a whole lot of specifics as our feet are mashed into ski boots all the time, but I would say feet get pretty strong just from skiing itself. I know my feet always kill after my first few days back on snow.


Foot.com: Freestyle skiing is very demanding. What are some common leg or foot injuries that skiers deal with?

Hardaway: There are lots and lots of ACL injuries in mogul skiing (I have had four knee surgeries myself) but I think that our ski boots go a long way in protecting our feet so you don’t see very many foot injuries. The only foot injury that I can think of is when my friend Emily Cook from the freestyle aerial team landed on the knoll doing a double backflip and broke both of her feet.


Foot.com: Ouch. Can you tell us more about your knee injuries?

Hardaway: I blew out my left knee before the ’98 Olympics. My surgeon tried an experimental surgery to fix it pretty soon after, but when I tried to start skiing again 9 months later I was in A LOT of pain. I ended up having to go to a different surgeon that following season to have my ACL reconstructed and spent another 8-10 months rehabbing. My third and fourth surgeries were just last year. Before the season started I had a scope on my knee to get my screw removed and then two months later blew out my other knee…go figure. I ended up having to have my ACL, MCL, and both menisci repaired this last December. Not fun.


Foot.com: That’s a lot to go through. We’re glad you’re back. You mention that the feet are protected by the ski boots. What makes a ski boot fit well?

Hardaway: For me, I love my Salomon Course Pro ski boots because they are nice and narrow and respond really well to tiny foot movements that I make to initiate my turns. I have some foam liners and footbeds in there to make the boot mold completely to my foot so they are super comfy.


Foot.com: How does a properly-fitting boot, along with the bindings, protect the foot or leg?

Hardaway: There is nothing worse than a bad-fitting boot. You can end up with all sorts of aches and pains, bunions and the like if you don’t get your boots fit properly. Not to mention that I would be impressed if you even made it through skiing a full day if your boots were not comfortable.

Bindings are also very important for injury prevention. You need to make sure that your bindings are set for your weight and your level of skiing so that they don’t pre-release when you are skiing some epic powder, but that if you take a bad crash they come off so you don’t wrench your knee or break your leg.


Foot.com: What kind of socks do you wear?

Hardaway: I always wear Ultimax socks skiing. They are really thin, but they keep your feet warm and dry.


Foot.com: Do you have any general advice for skiers interested in learning to ski moguls, whether they are kids or adults?

Hardaway: I would say just get out there and go for it. You are never going to get good at anything if you don’t try. In the bumps it helps if you try and keep your hands out in front of you and down the hill, and your eyes up and looking ahead so you can see what is coming next.


Foot.com: What’s next in your life and career?

Hardaway: Currently I am still rehabbing my knee 3x a week because I am having some trouble getting all of my range of motion back, but I am also trying to finish up my final 7 credits from Cornell Univ. via correspondence. I am toying with the idea of starting my own company…and oh yeah, skiing some powder on the side 🙂


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