Steamboat Springs High School seniors Emily Hannah and Mary O’Connell have chosen to focus on their postsecondary educations instead of skiing. Hannah will be attending Harvard in the fall while O’Connell will attend Dartmouth.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs High School seniors Emily Hannah and Mary O’Connell have chosen to focus on their postsecondary educations instead of skiing. Hannah will be attending Harvard in the fall while O’Connell will attend Dartmouth.

Steamboat star skiers Hannah, O’Connell prepare for college

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— If life is all about the decisions you make, Steamboat Springs High School seniors Emily Hannah and Mary O’Connell are off to a blistering start. 

The two come off as shy and reserved. They instantly deflect credit, staying humble rather than bragging about the accomplishment of what could be considered two of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s most talented cross-country skiers. 

And they both recently made major life decisions, and they have no problem modestly and articulately explaining their choice of education over potential ski team glory. 

Hannah and O’Connell both had banner 2011-12 seasons. 

Each made the World Junior Championships, the first two in the Winter Sports Club’s history to do so. They also were invited by the U.S. Ski Team to take part in the National Training Group. As part of the National Training Group, Hannah and O’Connell would have been two of six girls younger than 19 invited to train with the U.S. Ski Team through the summer and fall.

Simply put, they could be considered the future of the U.S. cross-country ski team. 

But instead of delaying the start of their postsecondary educations, both are embracing it. 

O’Connell is an articulate brown-haired teen who loves math. She’ll attend Dartmouth and study biomedical engineering. Hannah will go to Harvard, where physical and chemical biology most interest her.

Both will ski, but both admittedly realize the potential of skiing for the U.S. Ski Team isn’t as likely. And that’s OK, they say. 

“For me the final decision came down to I would get too mentally bogged down with skiing,” Hannah said. “If I’m just focusing on one thing, I get bored. I needed more stimulation with college. I was excited when I got into Harvard.”

Dartmouth boasts one of the better ski teams in the country, while Harvard for the first time qualified a female athlete for the NCAA National Skiing Championships last season. 

Although O’Connell admitted that making the U.S. Ski Team is a dream, she acknowledged the bigger importance of an education. 

“We went back and forth a lot to doing it and not doing it,” O’Connell said. “Going to Dartmouth, they have a very strong girls team. But the education we’re getting will work out if skiing

doesn’t. I was hesitant to take a year off.”

It’s not hard, however, to understand what would make the U.S. Ski Team swoon over the two.

After the 2011 season, Hannah was invited to train with the National Elite Group and the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team. 

Neither knew what the next season would hold. Each trained as if they were professional athletes, logging more than 475 hours per year running, roller skiing and strength training in addition to work on skis.

They admitted the goal was just to make the J1 Scandinavian Cup. Junior World Championships were there but didn’t seem like a realistic option. 

“When they said ‘Set reasonable goals,’” Hannah said, Junior World Championships “wasn’t one of them.”

But the two continued to get better throughout the year, eventually becoming the first pair from Steamboat to qualify for the event. 

“They will both be quite successful,” Winter Sports Club cross-country coach Josh Smullin said. “A lot of times for other athletes, the first year in college can be tough. But they both can be contenders right away and race at the NCAA Championships.”

The two have raced together, studied together and now made perhaps the biggest decisions of their young lives together. 

Now, they’ll prepare to go their separate ways. Skiing will remain part of their lives and so will education. 

“Having each other was a major thing,” O’Connell said. “It’s been really good. I wouldn’t be here without her and without having a friend in it.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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