Last January, Katie Hartman’s life was kind of like watching the opening of the old television favorite, ABC’s Wide World of Sports. You could almost hear Jim McKay narrating in the background as Hartman experienced “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Hartman, a senior skier at Colorado, was at the top of her sport when she traveled to Erzurum, Turkey, for the World University Games with several of her CU teammates and skiers from other collegiate programs.
The World University Games is the equivalent of the Olympic Games for athletes enrolled in colleges and universities. The games are held every other year and at the event in 2011 there were 1,880 athletes from 57 different countries participating in 22 sports.
While Hartman and her fellow U.S. teammates were well-traveled, they had never been to Turkey and considered it an adventure.
“We started calling it the ‘Turkish Experience’ because everything we did was something new and different than any of us had ever done when we traveled,” Hartman said.
While it was an once-in-a-lifetime trip, the conditions in Turkey were not ideal. There was just one run open, and not much snow. It was extremely windy and the visibility was poor. But Hartman, a native of Breckenridge, Colo., was having the time of her life and skiing like a champion.
On the first day, she won the Super G in a time of 1:11.26, claiming the first gold medal by a CU skier at the World University Games.
“It was unbelievable,” Hartman said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better in an international field that competes at a pretty high level. I knew it was going to be a good season and a good way to end my career at CU and then go compete for the U.S. Ski Team. My hopes and dreams were set pretty high …”
But just two days later during the Super G half of the Super Combined race on the same course, those dreams were put on hold.
“It was one of those races where all the girls at the start were saying, ‘Are you sure they’re going to run this?’ ” Hartman said. “There were 60 mph winds. We thought there was no way it would happen.”
The competition forged on despite the conditions, and Hartman made her run, full of confidence from her victory earlier in the week.
“About halfway through the course I was told I was about a second-and-a-half ahead of the field and I was charging my way to another victory,” Hartman said. “The lighting was pretty bad and it was foggy — I hit a bump weird and there went the end of the season.”
Hartman crashed, seriously injuring her knee and she immediately knew it.
“I’ve had bad injuries and I’ve had those crashes where I couldn’t believe I’ve walked away,” Hartman said. “I’ve always thought I was invincible but I knew something was wrong after that crash. I wouldn’t let them take me down in a sled because I think the sled the idea that something is really wrong. I wasn’t ready to face that so I skied down with a torn ACL.”
Along with the ACL tear, Hartman also partially tore her MCL. However, her individual success was not what she was most upset about. She and the Buffs had been dedicating their season to Spencer Nelson, a teammate who passed away in a hiking accident prior to the 2011 season. Hartman and Nelson were roommates, and very close friends.
“I had been dedicating my season and everything I did that year to Spencer,” Hartman said. “To lose out on that season and go to NCAAs in Vermont on crutches was something I’ll never forget and one of the hardest things I’ve done as an athlete. It was a tough year.”
But while Hartman watched her CU teammates from the sidelines in Stowe, Vt., she was still their biggest supporter as the Buffs captured their first NCAA title since 2006. And the victory motivated her to get back on the slopes as soon as possible.
“It helped me get through my rehab and to fight for another year because I wanted to be part of it again,” Hartman said. “I didn’t feel like I fully had my chance.”
An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, inside your knee joint. An ACL injury most commonly occurs during sports that involve sudden stops and changes in direction.
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Hartman was determined to get another shot on the slopes this season. After surgery and several months of rehabilitation with the CU sports medicine staff, she applied for an NCAA medical hardship waiver and was granted an extra year of eligibility to compete in 2012 for a full-fledged senior season.
In August, Hartman was medically cleared to begin skiing again and wasted no time testing her knee. It was too early to ski in Colorado, so she booked an airplane ticket to Mount Hood, Ore., for that very weekend.
“I got to the top of the mountain and just had to see if I still had it,” Hartman said. “And, I did. I did a full run of ripping turns after nine months of coming back from injury and it felt awesome.”
“I’ve seen many athletes go through this, and everyone handles it differently,” Colorado head coach Richard Rokos said. “Katie is one of the most aggressive kids in this area. She does not fool with things. It was a little bit early, but that’s her.”
After proving to herself she could still handle herself on the slopes, Hartman followed the training staff’s advice, doing drills and slowing increasing her workload during the fall.
Hartman’s hard work has paid dividends early. In the Buffs’ first competition on Jan. 6, she won the RMISA Alpine Qualifier Giant Slalom race.
The next day she placed third in the Giant Slalom at the CU Invitational — now renamed in honor of the late Nelson. For those placing at the event, Nelson’s parents had commemorative belt buckles made. Hartman put it on the minute she received it, and has been wearing it on the slopes ever since. It reminds her of Nelson’s spirit, and of her long road back being healthy.
“I can look down at it and know it is coming back,” Hartman said. “Every day is a better day.”
In her first five races of the season, Hartman has posted top-10 performances in each one. Over her career, she has 30 top-10 finishes in 44 races.
“Her injury last year set her back when she was on the verge of making the national team,” Rokos said. “After a year of recovery, it looks to me with her commitment and determination she is coming back strong and will pursue that goal again.”