Some kids go to college on the five-year plan. Hannah Kearney figures she’ll take even longer than that.
The Olympic champion’s plans to go to Dartmouth weren’t so much put on hold as put on a different timeline. She heard the moguls calling again and decided she couldn’t stay away. Instead of competing this season on a limited, domestic schedule while she goes to college, Kearney is back on the mountain full-time. Her ultimate goal: An Olympic gold repeat at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
“It made a lot of sense to me to continue doing what I love while I’m in my physical prime,” the 25-year-old said. “It seems silly to step away.”
Some may have argued it seemed silly to keep going.
Kearney, who is from Vermont, won the Olympic gold medal in 2010, making up for an early slip that resulted in a 22nd-place finish four years previous when she was the favorite. She defeated her biggest rival on the circuit, Canadian Jenn Heil, then came out in the 2010-11 season and beat Heil for the World Cup title, as well.
What more is there to prove?
“Sometimes, I wonder that myself,” Kearney said. “But I knew I wasn’t done. I was never satisfied. I know I can be better at what I’m doing. I haven’t reached my peak. It’s hard for athletes. Who wants to leave what they love doing? But I know this isn’t the time because I can still do better.”
Kearney’s dean at Dartmouth was willing to work with her on some creative scheduling that will have her taking mostly spring and summer classes through 2014. By then, she figures, she’ll have an idea of what she wants to do in her post-skiing life.
During her first semester, she took economics, an English Women’s Gender Studies class and some history.
“I was plugging away at those. Exploring,” she said. “That’s the idea of college. To explore and learn.”
But her trips to the mountain were every bit as invigorating as they’d always been. Maybe more.
Kearney teamed up with a freestyle legend, 1998 Olympic aerials champion Eric Bergoust — a technical master of ski jumping, who is working with Kearney on new techniques as she tries to add a twist to the back flip that helped her win Olympic gold.
Not that she will necessarily need that trick to be competitive over the next four years. But that’s not the point.
“I owed it to myself to continue to attempt to progress,” Kearney said. “The minute you say, ‘OK, that’s good enough,’ then I’ve lost my edge. I’m not longer a professional athlete and that’s laziness.”
That, not surprisingly, is not part of Kearney’s makeup.
She wants to eek every last drop out of a ski career while she still has the physical tools to do it. When she was attending school, she commuted between Dartmouth and the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid for up to six hours a week.
“It was six hours in a car when I could’ve been training or studying,” Kearney said. “To me, it just seemed like a way to stress myself out and not give either one my best effort.”
So, she chose. And skiing won.
“It has to be my plan to go back and win a gold medal,” she said. “That’s what’s on my mind.”