Comeback complete: Halvorsen defies odds, claims first World Cup points
A huge box filled with cards is taking up space in the home of Hannah Halvorsen’s boyfriend.
Each one is written by well-wishers from across the globe, and each a part of a now yearlong comeback story of one of the brightest Nordic prospects to emerge from the Truckee-Tahoe area.
‘Am I still good at this’
Earlier this month Halvorsen competed in her first race in more than a year, a World Cup sprint event in Davos, Switzerland.
As she stood at the start line, questions swirled of whether she could still contend at an elite level. Soon the 22 year old out of Sugar Bowl Academy would have to find out on one of the brightest stages of the sport.
“Am I still good at this? There’s no way to know,” said Halvorsen. “I haven’t raced and now I’m going to do it in front of everyone’s eyes. If I find out I’m not good, everyone’s going to find out with me. It’s not a private thing. It’s kind of scary.”
Months of training and rehab had led up to this moment — all stemming from one November evening in 2019.
‘Blood on my scarf’
Halvorsen still has no memory of the accident that took place last year while enrolled as a junior at Alaska Pacific University.
Her boyfriend and a witness provide the only details of the evening, when she was struck by a Jeep Cherokee while crossing a one-way street in Anchorage.
She’d woken up in the hospital, suffering from bleeding and bruising in her brain, along with a fractured tibia, and a left MCL and PCL that were torn completely and detached from the bone.
“I was in a lot of pain,” said Halvorsen on the days following the accident. “I’ve been filled in on what happened. I haven’t had anything come back. It feels like a dream.”
Following the injury, Halvorsen flew to Vail, Colorado, for surgery, and then returned home to Truckee to continue physical therapy.
The reality of what happened didn’t truly set in until she returned to Anchorage.
“When I got home the clothes that I had been wearing were there. There was blood on my scarf and jacket, so it was like, ‘This did happen.’ Then I went to the corner where it happened because it just didn’t feel real,” later adding, “I was so scared to go over there, which I understand is illogical, but I was so nervous to see it.”
Road to recovery
In the weeks following the incident Halvorsen was embraced by the Truckee-Tahoe and Nordic communities.
A local fundraiser was set up to help support her comeback, and soon she began relearning to walk again, taking her first steps toward recovery.
“The community really came out for me, which is incredible because there was no guarantee I would be able to race at that point, especially at a high level,” said Halvorsen. “The Nordic community and the Tahoe-Truckee community as a whole is a really special community to be a part of.”
Beginning to put weight on her knee eventually led to a return to training, summer roller skiing, and reuniting with her team in Anchorage.
“Once she had her skis on there was this incredible joy,” said Director of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center Erik Flora on summer training. “You could see it with everyone there. It was infectious … that glimpse of ‘Oh, I’m back. I can ski.’”
Halvorsen said she remembers talking with her coach that day as her teammates took off ahead on roller skis. It was only when she managed to catch up that she realized there was a path back to competition.
“That moment was really relieving,” she said. “I’m not so far behind because it can be so daunting. It can seem like there’s so much ahead of you when you were relearning to walk in January.”
Though returning to skiing in some form was a major breakthrough, it came with its own setbacks. Often Halvorsen said she’d only be able to train 10 to 15 minutes at a time due to back and neck pain, bringing questions of whether she would be able to continue her race career.
“Having those big downs, it makes you start to question — is this possible?” said Halvorsen. “Or should I just be grateful that I’m alive and I’m able to walk again? Maybe that’s all that I’ll be and that’s enough.”
Halvorsen, however, wouldn’t be deterred, putting in endless hours of physical therapy to return to the sport she loves.
“At times she would be totally exhausted from the combination of PT work and the stress and strain of the emotional turmoil of trying to go through this recovery process,” said Flora. “Her motivation is off the charts. She has a unique ability to focus.”
Eventually that worked paid off in early October, when Halvorsen was able to return to cross-country skiing for the first time, taking part in practices and time trials with her teammates.
World Cup validation
Moments before the gun sounds to start the World Cup event in Davos, Halvorsen’s mind flashes with doubt. She’s been through so much to return to skiing, but questions of whether she can still race with the best linger.
“I was just nervous because I didn’t know where I’d be,” she said. “I usually have an idea of who I am, and where I race. I didn’t have that identity set yet, so I didn’t know if I was going to go over there and get last or what would happen. The unknown was pretty scary.”
Those fears, however, would fade as soon as she started gliding across the snow, and she made her return to the tune of a solid result — a 38th-place finish against some of the world’s best. Halvorsen would then head to Dresden, Germany, where, on Dec. 19, she put together a career-best performance on the World Cup stage, finishing 23rd to earn her first cup points.
“It’s really validating,” said Halvorsen. “All of the work I’ve done, all of the work people have done for me, the hours coaches have spent helping me, the hours of (physical therapy) — it all worked.”
Halvorsen went on help propel the U.S. team to an eighth place finish in a World Cup team sprint race before returning home to Truckee.
“It’s amazing to be able to go over there and score points,” said Flora. “That’s unheard of. There’s not a long list of ladies who have scored World Cup points in the United States and she put herself on the list. It’s an incredible story.”
Going forward, Halvorsen said she doesn’t believe she’s fully back to 100%, and that with more time on the snow and training, she hopes to reach a World Cup sprint semifinal and crack the top 10 at the U23 championships.
“I feel grateful and also just real excited,” she said. “If I’m here now, this isn’t the peak. There’s more there.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643.
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