Hannah Kearney settles into retirement
Since forerunning the 2002 Olympics in Park City and joining the U.S. Ski Team shortly thereafter, mogul skier Hannah Kearney’s name has been synonymous with success at the highest levels of winter sports.
Her career résumé speaks for itself — a record-tying 46 World Cup victories, 71 podium finishes in 117 career starts, 10 World Cup crystal globes (four freestyle overall titles and six moguls titles), eight World Championship medals (three gold), a 2010 Olympic gold medal, a 2014 Olympic bronze medal.
This winter, though, Kearney won’t be hitting the slopes. She’ll be hitting the books.
Following her retirement after the 2014-15 winter season, Kearney is living in Park City and attending school at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. After her long and successful career, the 29-year-old said she feels driven to find out what’s next for her in life.
"I think it’s still a little bit too early [to look back]," she said. "Sometimes it already feels like my ski career was 100 years ago and it looks more like a book of records and pictures and medals — that’s sort of how I remember it. On the other side of it, two nights ago, I had a dream that it was as if I was transported back a year and still had a year of skiing ahead of me. That was a really weird feeling, too. I don’t know where I sit on that. I don’t want it to be my identity — just the skiing records — but I guess I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was pretty cool that I had a career that looks good in numbers and, as a result, was really satisfying to me."
During her time with the U.S. Ski Team, Kearney was always either competing or working on staying in shape for the upcoming competition season. Though she wouldn’t trade her experiences, she said it’s been nice having an unstructured summer for once.
"This is the best way to ease into retirement," she said. "If I started out retirement with it being winter, I think I’d miss it and feel like I could still be doing it. By skipping my least favorite part of the sport, which was the water-ramp training, all of a sudden, I’m realizing summer can be wonderful without spending 15 hours a week jumping into a pool of water. A) I thought summers were cold, but it’s just because I was permanently chilled from being in the water and, B) you had to choose your outdoor activities while worrying about wasting energy you could be using for training. I would never go on non-purposeful mountain bike rides or hikes. It all had to be part of a workout plan."
Now Kearney and her dog, Finn, a one-and-a-half-year-old lab mix she adopted after the Sochi Olympics, are mainstays on the Park City trails.
"Especially with a dog and the amazing recreating out here, I’m really, really enjoying retirement," she said. "The main two things are hiking and biking. With the dog, it’s a necessary part of my day that he gets exercise, which means I get exercise, too. The biking around here, though — I’m so bad at it. The worst thing I ever did was download Strava (a running/biking tracking app). I’m not good enough to be competing at anything. It’s like, ‘Look, you got 350th out of 352 people!’ But the trail network is fantastic, so I’m just trying to take advantage of that."
Back to school
While Kearney enjoys what Park City summers have to offer, she’s also easing herself back into the world of schooling. After attending Dartmouth previously, she said Westminster College (with which the U.S. Ski Team has a partnership) has been a pleasant switch.
"School’s going really well," she said. "Westminster is not Dartmouth, but I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. It’s been a really nice change of pace from Dartmouth. I think I also did it the right way. I took one class in May, and it was called Ecological Eating. It was the best-case scenario where the teachers cooked for you every class and we learned about food, which is one of my passions anyway. I was like, ‘OK, I can handle this.’ This summer, I’m taking two classes — Environmental Biology and Philosophy."
If those classes seem unrelated and random, it’s because they are. That’s how Kearney wants it.
"It’s certainly exposing me to new ways of thinking and that’s the whole purpose of school," she said. "I’m using it that way right now — to expose myself to some new ideas and ways of thinking and figuring out what the heck I’m going to do with myself next."
She has a vague idea of what she wants to major in, but added nothing is set in stone just yet.
"I’m definitely figuring that out," she said. "I’m leaning toward just general business for now, maybe management of international business. I think finance is a little too specific for me. I’m going to do something that’s generally applicable to the world, hopefully."
Winter is coming
The big question, though, is how Kearney will handle her first winter without being on the moguls course. As she said, it’s easy to stay away from the sport during her least favorite part of the training cycle. The difficult part will come when the snow begins to fall.
"I’m a little nervous about the winter part," she said. "I’m expecting that the only time I’ll miss it is when I plan on watching the Deer Valley World Cup. That’s one of my favorite venues and by far the most enjoyable place to compete because of the crowds. When I’m a part of that crowd, I think I’ll feel like I want to be up there. But, when I think about how hard that course is and how awful it is training it because of how much it beats up your body and how much it hurt last year skiing it, that might make it a little easier. But it’ll be fun cheering on my teammates and it’ll be cool when [the World Cup] comes to what is now my hometown."
Though she’ll have the winter to herself, Kearney said she isn’t sure how much skiing she’ll do on her own time.
"I won’t be able to answer the question, ‘How much am I going to ski?’ right now because I don’t know," she said. "I don’t know if I’ll be really excited to be freeskiing, which is so different than mogul skiing, or if I’ll simply want a break from it."
She’s looked into getting an Epic Pass, but said it was kind of weird thinking about buying her own ski pass.
"I live very close to Park City Mountain [Resort], so I think it would make sense to ski there," she said. "I think I’ll get an Epic Pass. As a professional athlete, in theory, you get paid to ski. Now I’m going to have to pay to ski. I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for me, but it’s an interesting transition."
A new chapter
Many former athletes transition into coaching, but Kearney doesn’t see that happening — at least not yet.
"Certainly not for the time being," she said. "I went up to the water ramps [at the Utah Olympic Park] the other day just to coach and volunteer my time. If that opportunity presents itself, that’s great. I definitely want to stay involved in some ways in the sport that’s been my entire life and career, but I think, in order to figure out what else I could possibly be good at or what I might want to do, I have to step away."
If she does come back to coaching, she wants it to be on her own terms.
"It’s the default path too often to go into coaching," she said. "You realize when you retire from a sport that it’s all you’ve done and that’s what you’re good at. I’m certainly more qualified to coach than I am to start a business, but that’s why I’m going to school — to gain some distance. If at the end of that time period I think it is authentically coaching that I’m best at, then I’ll go back to it I think. But I want to make sure I know I’m doing it for the reasons I deem appropriate."
Kearney wants to take her time choosing her next step. Stepping away from mogul skiing, taking several different types of classes in college and spending time with Finn enjoying Park City’s recreation scene are all big parts of figuring out what’s next.
"In sports, the goals are really specific, so I’m going to miss that, I guess," she said. "Life doesn’t work that way."
Having grown up in Vermont, Kearney says a part of her misses the East Coast. But, she said, she’s committed to Park City and the Utah lifestyle. She doesn’t know exactly how long she’ll live in Utah, but she plans on enjoying every minute of it.
"I’d say 3-5 years, maybe forever — who knows?" she said. "I committed to moving out here. I immediately got a Utah driver’s license and Utah plates — I’m living here. This is my new address, my new home. But it’s hard to take the New England out of a person and, with my family back there, too, someday I’ll go back there, but not until I’ve at least enjoyed some of the Utah powder for freeskiing, which I’ve never really had a chance to do."