Season lost: Truckee’s Halvorsen on road to recovery after being hit by car
It was a fairly typical evening in Anchorage for Alaska Pacific University cross-country skier Hannah Halvorsen.
Halvorsen and her boyfriend were heading out on the town to celebrate his birthday, but as they stepped onto a crosswalk a Jeep Cherokee hung a left at the intersection.
As the Jeep zipped by, Halvorsen’s boyfriend spun around expecting to exclaim how close the driver had come to hitting them. Halvorsen, however, wasn’t a step behind like he’d thought and instead had been struck, exploding her knee on the hood before falling off and hitting her head on the pavement.
“It was a one-way street that we were on,” said Halvorsen. “Presumably (the driver) might have looked where the cars were coming from, but not where the crosswalk was.”
The blow to her head knocked Halvorsen unconscious as blood pooled around. From there, Halvorsen spent the next five days in the hospital, suffering from bleeding and bruising in her brain, a tibia fracture, and a left MCL and PCL that had torn completely and detached from the bone.
It’s Oct. 31 and Halvorsen has just recently returned to Anchorage after training with the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team in Park City, Utah.
Excited about the prospects of the competitive year after coming off a breakout season that saw her make her first World Cup starts along with claiming podium finishes at the National Championships, she and a friend had settled in for dinner on Halloween.
Weeks later, it’s one of the few short-term memories Halvorsen has of the days surrounding the accident.
“I remember things that were important to me,” she said. “Other than that, it’s all very vague.”
The details would be filled in by her boyfriend as she spent the next week and a half bedridden, sleeping around 20 hours a day.
“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.”
The accident would take Halvorsen’s junior year of cross-country competition at Alaska Pacific University along with any races with the U.S. team. Instead of dwelling on not be able to ski, Halvorsen said she was simply happy to be alive.
“If someone had laid out this scenario hypothetically, I would’ve guessed wrong about the way I had felt,” said Halvorsen. “If I had been mountain biking or skiing and tore my knee, I’d just have been bummed … But it was coupled with this idea that, ‘Ski racing is awesome, but being alive is more important than that.’ It added some perspective.”
‘This did happen’
Following the injury, Halvorsen flew to Vail, Colorado, for surgery, and then returned home to Truckee to continue physical therapy.
The reality of what had happened wouldn’t truly set in though, until she returned to Anchorage.
“When I got home the clothes that I had been wearing were there,” Halvorsen, an alumna of Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy, said. “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.”
Halvorsen would then begin down the long road to recovery, working with trainers to rebuild her strength in an effort to eventually get back on the snow. As the days and weeks went by she said she began noticing a sense of gratitude for some of the things had gotten lost in the mix of pursuing her passion of skiing.
“There’s this sense that life is not guaranteed,” she said. “It’s one of those things where it puts it a perspective of all these things like school or ski racing — that stuff is all going to be OK.”
While major breakthroughs like getting off crutches and walking without a brace were cause for celebration, Halvorsen said it’s been a newfound appreciation for life and being present in the moment that are the biggest takeaways from the accident.
“It definitely made me realize that I really do want to ski,” she said. “It almost just felt like this was my life, that it was normal. It’s actually really special. I miss it a lot.”
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Halvorsen has had to continue physical therapy at home, communicating via Zoom meetings once a week with Brooke Lewis of Advanced Physical Therapy in Anchorage.
In the past few weeks Halvorsen has been cleared to begin running, and said she’s closing in on returning to skis.
“Everything is starting to work together again,” said Halvorsen on her recovery.
Recently she was named to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team’s development squad.
This summer she said she plans on training with the team at its Park City camp, before returning to Alaska Pacific for her senior year. She said plans are to compete in the upcoming season, and then graduate later in the spring with a degree in psychology.
As Halvorsen continues to work toward returning to competitive skiing, she’s set up PayPal and Venmo accounts to help offset some of the financial difficulty brought on by the accident. To donate, visit paypal.me/HannahHalvorsen?locale.x=en_US or venmo.com/Hannah-Halvorsen.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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