By Brandon HENSLEY
Is Kate Hansen better at dodge ball or luge?
Judging by her performance Tuesday night at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, it has to be the latter.
Hansen, a La Cañada native who competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, held an autograph session for fans at the Y, and afterward was supposed to emcee the championship game of adult dodge ball league.
Instead, halfway through a dominating performance by the younger Ball Stars, she joined in to enthusiastic applause by the crowd to help the struggling Motley Dodgers.
It didn’t go so well.
The first two games she competed in saw her get thrown out in the opening seconds. She managed to throw some people out in later games, but it hardly mattered; the Ball Stars walked away as champs, winning five games to two.
“It was actually frustrating because I love dodge ball, I live for dodge ball, and they totally ganged up on me and got me out,” Hansen said. “I was bummed.”
Not even a good luck charm she gave to one of the Dodgers’ players, Tom Roth, did any good. An hour before Hansen autographed Roth’s sweatshirt, and wrote “Go Motley Dodgers.”
What if someone from the Ball Stars asked Hansen to do the same?
“See, no one else has thought of that,” Roth said. “This is designed to psych out the other team. They’ve got us beat physically but we’ve got them beat mentally.”
Turns out that wasn’t true.
“They were rude, and they don’t appreciate me,” Hansen said in complete jest of the Ball Star players.
She jokes, because it appears everyone appreciates Hansen these days. The foothill area showed its Kate Pride last month when Hansen nabbed a 10th place finish in the Olympic luge event halfway around the world.
There were viewing parties at her uncle Bent’s restaurant, Los Gringos Locos. Teachers at her alma matter, La Cañada, let students watch her runs during class. Earlier this week Assemblyman Mike Gatto and the California Legislative Women’s Caucus honored Hansen as the woman of the year in Sacramento, and Tuesday’s event at the YMCA made the 21-year-old feel like a hero to the kids she hugged and took photos with.
“It makes me happy that so many people are interested in my story, so that’s really cool,” she said. “Hometown pride, always.”
Hansen’s mother Kathie said her daughter wasn’t prepared for exactly how many people were interested. Hansen was almost overwhelmed by the dozens interview requests she received while in Sochi, but it’s a combination of her accomplishments and down-to-earth, accessible personality that’s worth a look.
Having been on the National Team since 2007, she became the youngest Junior World Champion at age 15 in 2008. Last October in Norway, Hansen won the U.S. Luge National Championship, and in January she won the World Cup women’s season finale in Germany, making her the first American to win a singles race on the circuit since 1997.
All the attention she’s received this winter has worn on her, even when it seemed like it would be fun. For those not up to speed on the happenings of late-night TV, Hansen tweeted a photo of a supposed wolf roaming the dorms in Sochi during the Olympics, a story which news outlets across the U.S. ran with.
Hansen was actually taking part in a prank put on by ABC talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, of which Kimmel later revealed his staff built a fake dormitory in his studios and had the animal, which is mostly wolf, wander its hallways.
“I like to prank people and I thought it was hilarious,” she said.
The hoax was a hit on social media, but the U.S. Luge Association wasn’t too happy with not being notified first by Hansen.
“I’m just trying to live my dream, and if Jimmy Kimmel’s going to call me for a prank, yeah, I’m going to be part of it,” she said. (Hansen said she gained 20,000 Twitter followers overnight while in Russia, and after her race she got a thousand friend requests on Facebook. Still, she’d rather not spend so much time on those networks: “Too stressful, too much information.”)
Even better than doing hijinks with Jimmy Kimmel was being recognized by Beyoncé.
The world-famous pop artist gave a shout-out to Hansen on Facebook when the luger’s dance routines became a story in and of themselves. Hansen routinely warms up before an event by dancing to Beyoncé’s music, and several of those videos went viral.
“I was beyond stoked,” she said. “Beyoncé’s perfect. She’s one of the few entertainers who can act and sing at the same time in heels. You try on heels and you tell me how that goes, and she does it perfectly.”
Hansen’s vernacular is typical Southern Californian. She also used the word “stoked” when she described meeting her hero Torah Bright, an Australian snowboarder, at the Olympics. She also met maybe the most notable snowboarder in the U.S., Shaun White, which was “rad,” and called White’s detractors, who say he’s a sell-out, “haters.”
There are no such feelings toward Hansen, especially around town. La Cañada High student Tessa Nielsen came to the Y to say “hi” to Hansen, who was Nielsen’s group leader at church several years ago.
“The cool thing about Kate, she might not remember your name but she’ll remember the stuff she did with you, and she’s so nice to everyone, no matter who it is,” Nielsen said.
Despite being exhausted, Hansen isn’t done going places. She’ll fly to New York later this month to pick up her car, which she left there before going to Russia, and drive cross-country back to Utah to visit friends and family. She’ll start her spring semester at Brigham Young University in April.
Kathie said her daughter’s dream world is one where she wakes up, goes to the beach and surfs, a stark contrast to years of zooming down a track of ice. In either world, time has slowed down enough to for her recognize just how rad things have been.
“It is weird to be so young and have accomplished all the things I’ve wanted to do,” she said, “and I just feel so blessed, honestly, and so grateful to be a part of everything I’ve done.”