For Olympian Kate Hansen, luge is more than just an athletic endeavor; it's a Mormon missionary opportunity

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

The Hansens had friends — Evrett and Cheryl Benton — who’d moved from their La Canada ward in California to Park City. John called Evrett, who left work to meet Kate at the hospital. Another California friend, Howard Edwards, joined them, and the two men gave Kate a priesthood blessing.

“They made sure she had everything she needed,” John Hansen said. “They made sure she got to the track. They were just a real blessing. We couldn’t be there, and we thought it was the end.”

Kate Hansen had to make a decision. If she had surgery on her foot, her Olympic dream ended. If she didn’t, she’d have to compete in pain and on crutches for a time. Hansen called her mom the next morning and told her what she’d decided.

“She said, ‘I’m going to slide, and I’m going to win the race,’ ” Kathie Hansen said.

Hansen did just that, securing her spot on the World Cup team, which set her up for the emotional battle to earn a spot on the Olympic team. She competed on the World Cup circuit on crutches and with a small boot on her injured foot.

Hansen earned her spot on the team with a fourth-place finish on the same track in Park City. She will likely need to have surgery on the foot after the Olympics.

“My foot is feeling fine,” she said. “It definitely can be sore at times. I don’t feel like I’ve missed a beat.”

Watching their daughter realize a dream that began when she went to a tryout and a camp at 10 years old has been an emotional roller coaster for Kathie and John Hansen.

There have been challenges. For instance, how do you help your teenage daughter stay connected to her faith when she travels with older athletes who do not share or understand it?

Their solution was seminary.

“The seminary teacher recorded the lesson, and we’d pick up five days of lessons and send them to her,” John Hansen said. “She’d write a paragraph, and that’s how she fulfilled the requirement.”

Kate Hansen said those lessons brought her comfort and gave her guidance. Sometimes when she felt isolated or homesick, she listened to the lessons, and she felt confident and at peace.

From the start, the Hansens never saw luge as just an athletic opportunity. While Kate saw it as a way to escape the daily grind of school, the endeavor became much more serious when in 2008 she became the youngest American woman to win the junior luge World Championship.

The plan that had attending BYU at the top of the list was rearranged a bit as luge became more of a priority.

Even with the Olympics as a realistic goal, John said that he told Kate that if she were going to make the sacrifices necessary to pursue luge, her efforts had to be about more than accolades and awards.

“It has to be about more than just sliding down ice,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to be a missionary, to see the world, to make friends, but it has to be bigger than just being able to slide down ice faster that other people. That’s when she started making the videos.” Her YouTube page combines her luge experiences with her faith. It is the way she expresses both her personality and her faith while sharing the unique experiences of life as an elite winter sport athlete.

“It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes view of things, and I think it’s just fun,” Kate Hansen said. “It breaks down people’s walls, and I think it brings the luge community together.”

Hansen decided to fulfill her dream of attending BYU after she narrowly missed qualifying for the 2010 Olympics. She was exhausted and discouraged, and she said attending BYU, where no one knew about her luge career, was refreshing. Eventually, a bishop asked her about it, and she admitted it because, she said, "Who lies to their bishop?"

The bishop asked her to share her experiences with other students at firesides, and she said that reinvigorated and inspired her.

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