Hedda poses with her father at Copper Mountain, CO. Saturday, November 19th was a day Hedda will never forget.
From local ski hills to the PyeongChang Olympics, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) encompasses all athletes that share a passion for skiing and snowboarding. We explore what makes each skier and rider a champion with stories from the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding and U.S. Freeskiing, next to kids winning a NASTAR medal, landing their first cork 7 or joining a club team. Alongside USSA’s mascot Champ, take a look at how all of these athletes strive to be Best in the World.
As we continue to explore what makes USSA athletes champions, we’re learning more than we ever expected. To be a champion is holistic – it goes beyond the medals and the titles. It’s someone with great character and an undying belief in themselves; it’s someone who loves their sport with an unmatched passion—whether they’re still actively pursuing it or not. We are honored to share these stories with you. In this installation, Alpine Press Officer Megan Harrod takes a bit of a different approach, sharing a story about a young girl who taught her – and the athletes – a thing or two about perseverance and #WhatMakesAChamp.
For U.S. Ski Team athletes, it was just like any other day at Copper Mountain, Colorado, training at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center: wake up, warm up, breakfast, super G session, NASTAR Pacesetting Trials, giant slalom session, lunch, dryland, video, autograph signings, dinner, bedtime. Repeat. But for Hedda, Saturday, November 19 was a day she’ll never forget.
For me—the alpine press officer—this job is a labor of love. For the athletes, coaches, physios and servicemen, the same is true. There’s not much money in ski racing, but we all make up for it in passion and a pure love for the sport. We work from the most stunning mountaintops across the world. We see sunrises and sunsets in beautiful villages. We laugh, we cry, we celebrate and we struggle. All in all, it’s a privilege to live this life, and for the athletes, it’s a platform to inspire. For Hedda, Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO), Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah), Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) and teammates did just this. They inspired. And left a lasting impression on this young girl.
I received the call from U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s CMO Mike Jaquet on the night of the 18th. “Hedda and her family are coming to Summit County for a ski camp for 10 days for her sister and brother, is there anything special you can do?” he asked. Without a doubt. We invited Hedda and her family to lunch with the team at Copper Station, where she was able to meet Nyman, Tommy Biesemeyer (Keene, NY), Laurenne Ross (Bend, OR), Stacey Cook (Mammoth Lakes, CA), Erik Arvidsson (Woodside, CA)…and Olympic champion Ligety.
I will never forget the sparkle in Hedda’s eyes when we looked over and saw Ted. He came over, chatted, signed her suit. When Ted walked away Hedda looked up at me, nearly breathless, and simply said, “That was so cool.” At that moment, she was just like any other wide-eyed girl who met one of her heroes. Star-struck. And so, so full of gratitude.
Hedda was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a malignant high-risk, cancerous tumor in her brain in the summer of 2015. She’s been fighting ever since. Hailing from the east, the Mecca for ski racing, she continued to ski through chemotherapy and radiation alongside her ski team at Skylands Ski Club, racing for Mountain Creek.
Hedda’s journey has been a poignant reminder of the importance of life off the hill. There’s a big ol’ world out there beyond the White Circus, and – at times – it’s easy to forget. Beyond the gold medals, finish area smiles and hugs, sparkly champagne for victory toasts, mind-blowing runs and breakthrough up-and-comer performances, sitting with Hedda on that sunny day in November taught us all about the true definition of perseverance. Without even knowing it, and in her own quiet and charming way, Hedda taught us what makes a champion.
Hedda loves to ski, and skiing has been one of the activities in her life that made a significant difference in lifting her spirits. It was only a matter of time before these two champions would unite…but what Hedda might not have realized is just how much she inspired her heroine Vonn. “Stay strong and never give up,” Vonn told Hedda in that first video.
Vonn, who recently announced her return to Audi FIS Ski World Cup action this weekend in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, knows a thing or two about staying strong and never giving up. Just when Vonn was ready to return to action after fracturing her left tibial plateau while racing in Soldeu-El Tarter, Andorra last February, she then suffered a fracture in her upper right arm while training in November. Hedda’s visit to Summit County just happened to coincide with Vonn recovery period in Vail.
Not even two weeks after her injury, Vonn asked for Hedda’s contact information and quietly connected with her mother, Camilla, to surprise Hedda. “When you meet an amazing girl who is bravely battling cancer, it makes the important things in life more clear. Hedda, you inspire me. Keep fighting girl. #thisiswhyidoit” Vonn wrote in a Facebook post just after Thanksgiving.
Whip-smart with a big, bright smile and an insurmountable amount of gratitude, curiosity, strength, imagination and perseverance. That’s Hedda. She may not have won an Olympic gold – yet – but she’s taught us what truly makes a champion, and has left a lasting impact on us all. On behalf of the entire U.S. Alpine Ski Team, we’re sending you continued strength and strong vibes. Keep on fighting, little warrior!
Press Officer Megan Harrod (second from left) smiles with Hedda and her family.
A note from the writer, Press Officer Megan Harrod:
Hedda told me her spirit animal is an owl, though dogs and kinkajous are, in fact, her favorite animals. Someday, she’ll replace me as Press Officer, so I’m already trying to figure out when she’ll tag along and shadow me. Since both of her parents are Swedish, we thought the Stockholm City Event would make sense. After not having heard from Hedda’s mother Camilla in over a month, I received this message when checking in the other day:
“It was an amazing trip to Colorado. Meeting you all was part of it and it made Hedda feel special and gave her so much strength. We came back energized and I was ready to throw a big party for her birthday, but things didn’t go that way. We and the doctors thought she had a concussion for about two weeks, but it turned out to be the cancer that had come back. A total shock for us all. She had a clean scan on November 14, so it just didn’t make sense. It has been extremely aggressive. She is going through treatment and radiation that seems to be working. She is also receiving chemo. She is a fighter, though, and has made it through and is so amazing. She thinks about everyone else and is pushing and working so hard. Much love.”
You can follow Hedda’s journey and cheer her on at her Team Hedda Facebook page.