16-year-old Montana skier moves to Norway to pursue her passion
BILLINGS, Mont. - All eyes are on Rio as athletes from around the U.S. and the world compete in the summer Olympics. But while summer sports take center stage this month, a Montana girl and her entire family are moving to Norway to pursue her goals on the snowy slopes.
Skiing isn't just a sport for 16-year-old Hanna Nyquist. It's in her blood.
"I just really love skiing. I've been skiing since I was like really little," Hanna said. "I really like the thrill of it. I feel like there's not that many sports that you get that much thrill, like you always feel like you're putting yourself out there."
At the age of 2, Hanna's parents introduced her to the slopes. And by 8, Hanna was competing.
"I think we kind of had to hold her back," Hanna's mom, Sara, said. "I think she wanted to do it earlier, and they kind of have to get to a level where it's safe and they're ready for it."
Silver Run Ski Team Head Coach Pete Petry has coached Hanna in Red Lodge for the last three years.
"Hanna is an exceptional athlete. And the best thing about her is she's got just such a strong head on her shoulders," Petry said. "She's super ambitious, she's talented. And it's just that work ethic and that resiliency that she really has and that's going to take her a long ways."
"Chances for Hanna to be an Olympic level athlete are very strong," he said.
But skiing isn't without its risks.
"We were up training one day, I was in 7th grade, and I was just skiing slalom which is like my favorite event, and I hooked a tip, which is like your ski hits the gate. And I swung around and my boot hit the gate and it twisted. It was like shattered and dislocated. It was just a bad break."
Hanna was in a full leg cast for three months. Even after doctors removed the cast, Hanna spent the summer in physical therapy, working to regain her lost muscle. But it wasn't just the physical damage she had to recover from.
"Every single thing I did I was like, oh my gosh, I'm going to break my leg again," Hanna said. "Skiing is all about confidence really. If you don't have the confidence, you're never going to win the race because you have to put yourself so far out there. You really have to be pushing yourself to be able to win, because it's just hundreds of seconds that are in between you and the winner. Just not having that confidence at the beginning really slowed me down."
"You don't ever want them to have to deal with that," Sara said. "But I also think that it helps build them up a little. Like she had to dig inside herself and decide who am I going to be? And can I believe in myself? Can I do this again? And you can try and teach them as much as you can, but ultimately she had to dig."
Through hard work and determination Hanna returned to the slopes. And that work has paid off.
"Norges Toppidrettsgymnas. Which is pretty much Norway's like top sports school."
Hanna has been accepted into the school's alpine program. Hanna's dad, Sverre, a Norwegian native, attended the sports school. He said several of his classmates went on to compete in the Olympics or world championships.
"Its an exceptional opportunity just in terms of how serious ski racing is over there and the level of competition that she's going to be exposed to over there," Petry said.
"It's a tough field. It's a lot of competition," Sara said. "But I think, I mean she loves it, she's passionate about it, she's got a great skill set, she's going to go to a great school and have great teachers. And who knows? The sky's the limit."
Now, the home Hanna has lived in her entire life is empty as she prepares to follow her passion. She said she's nervous, but also excited to see what comes next.
"I don't know exactly how far I'll get, but I want to just try and see how far I can make it," Hanna said.
The family pictures are off the walls. The boxes packed in trucks. And Hanna and her family on their way to their next adventure.