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APU skier Hannah Halvorsen is walking and biking again, thanks to hard work and Zoom therapy sessions

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: May 6
  • Published May 6

Hannah Halvorsen does balance and leg-strengthening exercises during a Zoom appointment with Brooke Lewis, an Anchorage physical therapist with Advanced Physical Therapy. (Photo by Hannah Halvorsen)

Hannah Halvorsen is running and biking her way down the comeback trail, and she could be skiing again before the summer is over.

All of which is remarkable, considering what she’s coming back from.

Halvorsen, 22, is the Alaska Pacific University skier who was severely injured last fall when she was hit by a Jeep while crossing a street in downtown Anchorage. She suffered a skull fracture, a brain injury, a tibia fracture and complete tears of two ligaments in her left knee.

Halvorsen said she started walking again in March and started biking last week.

“She sent a video of her first couple weeks of running, and she’s doing fantastic,” APU coach Erik Flora said. “It’s a long road but she’s put her head down and is making gains.

"She’ll probably be ready to be back on snow this summer.”

Halvorsen was initially treated at Providence Alaska Medical Center before going to Colorado’s famed Steadman Clinic for surgery. She returned to Anchorage and was rehabilitating here before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down gym facilities at APU.

Now she’s living with her family in Truckee, California, where she continues to rehab with the help of Zoom meetings with a variety of health providers.

Part of Hannah Halvorsen's rehabilitation includes walks and bike rides that begin at Donner Lake near her family's home in Truckee, California. (Photo provided by Hannah Halvorsen)

This week, Halvorsen was one of 11 Alaska skiers named to the 23-skier U.S. Ski Team. She was a medical discretionary pick based on her promise and progress before her accident. She was a member of the U.S. women’s relay team that won a bronze medal at the 2017 World Junior Championships and won two medals at the 2019 U.S. National Championships.

Rosie Brennan, one of Halvorsen’s APU teammates, recently interview Halvorsen about her recovery as part of Brennan’s “Day in the Life” weekly series about APU athletes. Here is their conversation.

Q: How have closures or other interruptions due to COVID-19 affected you and your rehab? I have to imagine it’s also been tricky getting physical therapy and gym access over the last two months.

A: That’s exactly it. I’ve been kind of socially quarantined for awhile since I haven’t been on the race circuit and haven’t been with my teammates, but the additional quarantine of gyms being shut down has been challenging. Everything I need to do and can do are gym related so I was pretty shut down with my rehab.

Tschana Schiller (U.S. Ski Team strength coach) made a strength plan for me with the things I have at home that is quite impressive. I have a telehealth PT session once a week with Brooke Lewis of Advanced Physical Therapy in Anchorage. I have my computer camera on while I show her my exercises and she helps me that way. It’s crazy how well we’ve been able to make it work, but it’s all pretty strange.

Tschana is really good at what she does. I have a very well rounded strength plan with just the few things I have at home and it’s not an easy strength session. Brooke has been able to make all my exercises using chairs or stairs. I think it would be really bad if I didn’t have a good PT or strength coach, but they have been so helpful.

Q: Even though you weren’t on the race trails this winter, do you have a highlight from the winter? What have been some of your biggest breakthroughs in rehab this winter?

A: One of the bigger breakthroughs was being able to walk again. It was so limiting not being able to walk. I had to wait 5 weeks for surgery due to my brain injury so I had an extra 5 weeks I was on crutches. You really take for granted simple things like going to grab a glass of water. I just last week started being able to run again for only 10 minutes, but it feels like I’m finally moving forward.

Hannah Halvorsen (204) ski towards the finish during a freestyle sprint quarterfinal race during the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Skiing Championships at Kincaid Park. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

Q: What does a typical day look like now?

A: I do quite a bit of PT. I do strength a couple times a week and a lot of walking. I can only run 10 minutes a day so I walk the rest of the time. It’s really pretty here so it’s nice to be out and now I have started biking. Between that and online school, that takes up most of my day.

Q: What activities are you doing to keep yourself busy outside of training and rehab?

A: I’ve been reading and listening to music. I’ve been getting really into puzzles too. I’ve made bread a few times, but can’t really say it’s a regular hobby. I am on Donner Lake so I hang out on the dock.

Q: What did your workout look like today?

A: I walked around the lake and picked up trash along the way. I have been working on some thank you notes and then I have strength (conditioning).

Q: Do you have any indoor/at home workouts you are doing?

A: I do lunges with my back leg on a band held between two chairs. I do a lot of neurocognitive training so I have a half a foam roller that I balance on while I play catch or bounce balls.

Q: You have been hit with numerous big life changes over the last year. What motivates you to keep going?

A: It’s actually affected me the opposite way. Things had been relatively steady for a couple years and you almost get too comfortable and stuck in the monotony. Having big changes have made me realize how fortunate I am to travel and train and be with my teammates.

The goals I have are things I really care about and are more clear. I really want to get to a point where I can train with my teammates and travel again. That motivates me. I build a bit of motivation from the underdog spirit as well. When you are doing well sometimes it’s hard to not feel like you are just trying not to fail. When something like this happens you get the spirit of just wanting to prove you can get back and sometimes that makes things a little easier.

Q: How are you keeping in touch with friends/family/teammates?

A: I’ve been keeping in touch quite a bit. We’ve had some zoom meetings with APU girls team. I’ve been texting with a lot friends. In many ways we have had more spring communication than usual as we often go our separate ways in the spring, but it feels weird not to be with people. I miss that.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: I just got the green light to start double poling on May 1 and by June I should be allowed to stride and in July skate. Those are the big ones, but throughout that time, each week I’m bumping up the amount I can run or do other activities as long as things are still going well. So far things have been smooth!

Q: Do you have any advice in dealing with the changing times?

A: When things change some people respond by feeling overwhelmed or stressed which becomes negative, and some people can respond to change by figuring what they can get out of the change even if it is stressful.

I have been trying to figure out what I can do with the extra time and less variables. It can make days quite routine, but a lot of things we want to work on don’t happen from one big effort, but from doing it everyday and this extra time and routine allows me to work on something every day.

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