Olympian Kate Hansen returns home to La Cañada

Olympian Kate Hansen returns home to La Cañada
Samuel, 8, and Maya White, 10, of La Cañada, wait as Olympian Kate Hansen signs her autograph for them at the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA in La Cañada on Tuesday. Hansen competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in the luge and took 10th. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

LA CAÑADA — Living out her dream at 80-plus miles an hour upon the storied stage of the Winter Olympics for all to see across television screens, Internet streams, newspaper covers and social media platforms, Kate Hansen smiled wide, shined bright and very much became a star in the Sochi, Russia Games.

PHOTOS: Olympian Kate Hansen visits YMCA for autographs and dodgeball

Roughly a month removed from making her Olympic debut as part of the Team USA luge team and concluding her four runs with a 10th-place finish in the women's singles race, Hansen returned home to the states and her native La Cañada Flintridge.

Though she's not sliding against the world's best, she's still racing around.

One of her latest stops came Tuesday, as she dropped by the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA as part of a whirlwind week filled with pictures and autographs aplenty, awards, appearances, television and some family time.

"It was just so cool," said Hansen, 21, of Tuesday's experience of meeting fans and admirers, posing for pictures and signing autographs on YMCA fliers, helmets, shirts and even a little girl's cast. "The little kids were so great. I remember when I was in that position. To be on the other end was so surreal."

It wasn't the last time Hansen would be on hand in La Cañada to see well-wishers and fans face to face, as she was scheduled to appear at the Los Gringos Locos restaurant Wednesday and Thursday.

Tuesday's YMCA crowd was a large one, consisting primarily of youngsters.

"We were expecting a large crowd cause she's the local, hometown Olympian, which is pretty great. They've been here waiting around since 3 p.m.," said Craig Strazzeri, the YMCA's director of healthy living who set up Hansen's appearance at 7:30 p.m. and her subsequent participation in an adult league dodgeball championship. "It's their role model, they all look up to Kate Hansen."

Hansen, a La Cañada High graduate and lifelong La Cañada resident when she's not trotting the globe with the national luge team or attending school at Brigham Young University, was the first Olympian from La Cañada since Peter Wells made the 2004 Summer Games in sailing.

Twelve-year-old Camilla of Tujunga was the first in line, having followed Hansen through the Olympics and, subsequently, having been inspired to follow in her footsteps in another sport.

"It's kind of cool. She's an Olympian," said Camilla, who's an aspiring gymnast. "I want to be an Olympian, too."

Christine Aydin of La Cañada brought kids Samantha, 12, Benjamin, 10, and Aaron, 6, to the YMCA to see Hansen up close.

"We watched her on the Olympics and when I found out this was happening, I said, 'We've gotta meet her,'" Aydin said.

As much as her stature as an Olympic athlete, Hansen's charisma and personality made Samantha a fan.

"She seemed like a very nice person," Samantha said. "She seemed funny and she seemed very determined."

Of course, Hansen's return has also allowed her to see many a familiar face.

La Canada High's Tessa Nielsen, 17, attends the same church as Hansen and received a big hug from Hansen at Tuesday's event.

"She's my role model, actually," Nielsen said. "I was so excited she finally made it to the Olympics. I was watching on TV and I was like, 'I know her, I know her!"

Hansen returned home on March 2.

By the next day, she was doing interviews with local media and on March 4 taped an episode of TBS' "The Pete Holmes Show."

Later that week, she was on "The Queen Latifah Show," which aired Monday with Hansen as the guest disc jockey for the show, displaying her now-trademark dance moves throughout the episode.

Thereafter, Hansen flew to Utah to see brother, Davis, perform in a concert.

On Monday, she was off to Sacramento to accept the honor of "Woman of the Year," as presented by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) and the California Legislative Women's Caucus in recognition of being a woman who "made a great contribution to California and who [has] inspired women and girls in California and beyond," as stated in a release from Gatto's office.

Following the YMCA and Los Gringos Locos appearances, Hansen is set for a taping of "American Ninja Warrior" on Friday.

Going forward, she's headed back to Lake Placid, NY, and the USA Luge training facility where Hansen's "whole life" is, which includes, in particular, her car. Then it's back to BYU for the spring with an April visit to the White House on the docket, as well.

Indeed, it's been a roller-coaster ride set forth by Hansen grabbing the limelight thanks in large part to her charisma and pre-luge warm-ups, in which she danced — while listening to Beyonce — to get loose before her runs. Though just a part of her warm-ups, Hansen's dancing made her an Internet sensation.

"I thought that was fantastic that the video of Kate dancing went viral," said Gordy Sheer, the United States Luge Assn. marketing director. "It was wonderful."

Hansen subsequently became an Internet sensation seemingly overnight as her dancing was shown during her first runs on Feb. 10, which she soon found out about after her performance.

"I turned off all my electronics during the run," Hansen said. "When I turned everything back on, it was like, 'Boom!'"

There to see it in person were Kate's mom, Kathie, dad, John, sister, Heidi, and brother, Christian.

"It was a little surreal," Kathie said. "You had all the TV and the cameras. It was crazy. It was like, I don't know, a little bit of euphoria. It was nuts."

Though the Olympics are now a memory, Kate Hansen is still shining bright it seems, particularly in her hometown.

"Our community has been so supportive. … It's just cool to see all these people come out and support her," Kathie said. "I think it's just been a great experience for the community, just like it's been a great experience for our family."

And so, at least for the time being, one of La Cañada's favorite daughters has returned home. Though it's only for a short while, Kate — who's grown accustomed to living out of suitcases at different hotels traveling the World Cup luge circuit when she's not away at college — has returned to familiar faces curved with smiles and the comforts of home.

"It doesn't happen very often," she said, "so I try to savor every moment."