Grant Gordon: 'Go Kate, go!'

“The Olympic games are coming and she’s on the luge team/
She’s the fastest on the ice that anybody’s ever seen/
Go Kate, go!”

- Ukulele Bartt

It’s hard to know somebody after just one phone call.

It’s an even more arduous notion when that phone call is nine hours apart, 5,800 miles away and 45 minutes late.

That’s how I met Kate Hansen, though, finally getting through for an interview nearly an hour late as a sunny Southern California morning was out my window and a cold German night carried on outside of her hotel room in Altenberg.

But when you talk to Kate Hansen, even if it’s just for 35 minutes or so, it doesn’t take that long to believe you’ve gotten to know her. And it takes even less time to know you’re going to root for her.

When you correspond with her via email, her smile still jumps out of the screen.

Her honesty is as refreshing as the ice in which her path to the Olympics has been forged.

Her exuberance is palpable, her charisma unbridled and her story uplifting.

“She’s a very unique person,” longtime friend Shannon O’Hara, a La Cañada High graduate like Hansen, says. “She’s a very contagious spirit to be around.”

It’s remarkable enough for any athlete to make their way to the Olympics, which, at 21 years young Hansen has done, bound for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

But consider that she’s done so in the sport of luge, one dominated by Germany and one that features just two tracks in the United States (Utah and New York).

Californians are hardly abundant as it relates to sliding, much less those that were busy skateboarding and surfing, playing volleyball, basketball and softball like Hansen was.

But for all the sun she reveled in, it was within the snow in which she made the commitment to shine.

Like most specialized sports, those who excel are away from school for long periods of time growing up, often going the home school or certainly the private school route. Hansen, however, isn’t like most and went above and beyond to graduate from La Cañada High.

“She was just a really dedicated kid,” says La Cañada girls’ basketball Coach Tamar Hill, who coached Hansen on the basketball team and was also her biology teacher. “It’s phenomenal what she was able to do when she wasn’t in a classroom.”

If there’s been an obstacle, Hansen has raced by it.

She broke her foot in a practice run this past World Cup season. That was on a Wednesday. And on Friday she was back on the track.

“She thought it was gonna be over, so once she got back on the track, she was like, ‘OK, I think I can do this,’” mom Kathie says.

It wasn’t Kate’s most serious injury, just her most recent.

During her junior year of high school, she cracked her fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae, or basically broke her back. She had six weeks away from the luge and used it to “catch up on school,” Kathie says.

Kate doesn’t hesitate to tell you it’s been difficult. Luge isn’t exactly glamorous, after all, and living hotel to hotel on the same World Cup stops certainly would lose its luster.

“After a couple of seasons, it becomes more of a job,” Kate says. “It’s tough for sure.”

In a world in which her success is defined by tenths of a second, her life is one of different time zones week after week, trotting the globe in which the sled she leans back upon is far more familiar than the different hotels in which she lays her head to sleep.

And yet, it’s hard to imagine her without a grin.

Then again, your vision becomes a bit skewed when you’ve seen the finished product of her orchestration of YouTube videos with lugers from across the globe dancing and singing in unison to “Fergalicious” or “All I want for Christmas is you.”

To get to where she is, luge has no doubt been a full-time job, but she’s balanced it with being a student (now at Brigham Young University).

She’s found time to rock the ukulele, which has led to Ukulele Bartt writing a song for her called, “Go Kate, go!” And whether she’s making a YouTube video or not, “if there’s a dance floor, I’ll be there the entire night,” she says.

At their base, sports are about final scores, times across the finish line, wins and losses. But at their best, sports are an avenue in which the most compelling of stories can be spun.

Kate has become an Olympic athlete — a fabled accomplishment forever etched in sports chronicle.

More notably, perhaps, her quest to become an Olympian has allowed that many more people to get to know Kate.

She is a singing, dancing, laughing kid from sunny Southern California, who just so happens to be a world-class athlete with a tireless work ethic and fearless fortitude.

And when all the Olympic grandeur thaws into spring, she’s not quite sure what’s next, only that she’s excited to return to classes at BYU.

“I am just keeping my options open,” she says. “I think I’ll go back to school and be a nobody I guess. I’m kinda looking forward to that.”

Yeah, I’m not so sure I believe that she’ll be a nobody either.

In the realm of journalism, you’re supposed to be unbiased. But, as it’s a safe bet that nobody on Germany or Canada or Russia’s luge team will ever read this, it’s even easier to write that I’ll be rooting for Kate Hansen. You just can’t help it.

Thus, in the words of one Ukulele Bartt: “Go Kate, go!”

That’s just the way I see it, playing second string.

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