Sochi Winter Olympics: An epic journey


Are we there yet ?

It’s June 1990 and 3yo HT is impatient to reach Dinner Plains Mt Hotham where the Triggers have a holiday house and this year as promised she will learn to ski. This will be just one of Hundreds of days she will spend at Hotham prior to the 2014 Olympics . Rain, hail, snow or shine her passion for the snow saw her clock up the hours necessary to reach an elite level.

It’s said to take 10,000 hours and this is her story.

My name is Hannah Trigger, I’m a born and bred Peninsula local and today I’m going to share with you my experience as a professional snowboarder chasing my Olympic dreams. Unfortunately it’s not a gold medal story, but I believe it’s a story of perseverance and never giving up on your dreams.

I was first introduced to snowboarding when I was six years old at Mt Hotham. My dad had already switched from his skis a few years earlier and he was keen to get me on a snowboard too. I think I was lucky I started that young because I don’t even remember learning now, but I do know there were tears. My dad likes to remind me of a day he took me to Mount Baw Baw with a brand new Burton Snowboard and I cried the entire time because I didn’t want to go on the Poma.

Growing up I absolutely loved watching the Olympics on TV. I always dreamt of representing Australia and marching in the Opening Ceremony. I imagined myself being a runner or swimmer or something like that, I never knew that someday I’d have the chance to compete at the Winter Olympics, at that stage snowboarding was just a fun hobby I loved to do.

It wasn’t until high school that I started competing in local snowboard competitions. I remember being nervous but at the same time I really wanted to compete. My family friends the Baker boys were slightly older and already getting into the Australian competition circuit. I kind of followed their lead and for the next few years my dad would take me to the snow almost every weekend and to every major Australian comp in NSW and Victoria.

When I was 15 I begged my parents to send me on a 6 week snowboard camp to Canada. I’d never been on an overseas snow trip or had coaching before that. I didn’t even know anyone else who was going on the camp but I was desperate to do it. I must have promised my parents I’d do a lot of chores around the house to pay for it and luckily they agreed to send me.
Despite getting pneumonia on that trip I had and unreal time, met some lifelong friends & improved my snowboarding. At the end of the camp I was awarded a Coach’s recommendation and made the Australian team to compete at the Children’s World Snowboard Championships in Switzerland which was my first international competition.

The following season when I was 16 I did a talent identification camp at Perisher and from that I was selected onto the first Australian junior development squad for half pipe. Up until this time I had always competed in other disciplines including boarder cross, slopestyle, and big air, but once selected onto this squad I was focused mainly on the half pipe.

Our team spent a month or two training in Mammoth Mountain, California, riding nearly everyday and working with our coach to see what we were capable of. It’s so long ago now I can hardly remember much but I must have done alright as after returning home to Australia I was then invited to join the National Halfpipe team for their spring camp back at Mammoth Mountain. This was extremely exciting but I was also really nervous as a 16 year old kid to join the older team who were Australia’s best snowboarders training for the Olympics.

I went on the camp and gave it my best shot. I tried everything the coach asked of me even when I was really scared of trying some new tricks. I learnt McTwists that trip, it’s like a front flip barrel roll in the halfpipe. I had so many hard slams but kept trying because I wanted to impress everyone and get on the team.
It worked! They put me on the National Halfpipe Team and now I was training and competing with the Olympic Games in sight.

I remember I had to pull over at one point cause I was balling my eyes out so hard I couldn’t even see to drive. The family met me at Orbost and drove me back home to Merricks.From here on out it got so much harder. I now had a scholarship with the Olympic Winter Institute and the Australian Institute of Sport. Every few months our team had a testing camp at the AIS in Canberra. The first time I went I wanted to blow them away in testing and be some kind of super athlete they had just discovered. But that was not the case, it was so hard and I left feeling embarrassed, fat and weak! They do skin fold tests were they grab your fat in prongs and measure it, that was no fun at all. Then they wanted me to lift twice my body weight with one leg, I didn’t pass that test either. But my teammate re-assured me it’s best to start off bad your first time anyway cause then they’ll be happy when you have improved next testing.

On snow training and competing was harder too. I was no longer competing in competitions that were easy to win or training with people I was better than. I was competing and training with the best in the world, and I had a long way to go.

In 2005 we were just about to finish our pre-training before the World Cup Circuit and Olympic qualification period began. The Olympic Qualification period runs for 12 months with approximately 8 World Cup competitions spread out in Europe, America, Asia & New Zealand. Points are awarded for each world cup based on your result and you need to finish in the top 30 group at the end of the Qualification period in order to gain an Olympic Qualification spot.

Unfortunately I didn’t’ even get the chance to start in a single world cup this time as I tore the ACL in my right knee about a month before it began. It was quite devastating when the surgeon told me it would be 12 months of rehab and there was no chance of making the 2006 Olympics.

So a year went by and I watched the Olympics on TV. That was hard, but now I was even more determined after watching my teammates compete. After 12 long months of knee rehab I was a few weeks away from going back to training overseas when I tripped over a soccer ball in my backyard and re-injured my knee. It was excruciating pain for such a silly fall and I ended up having to get minor surgery to fix it.

I finally recovered from my knee Ops and began training again with the 2010 Olympics my new goal. Over the next few years I had a string of injuries. I broke my collarbone 4 times and had 2 surgeries on it. I’ve now got a permanent titanium plate in there to protect it. Each break was so painful! And everyone was from the same type of fall. Decking out in the halfpipe.

The pipe walls are 22ft high, and if you take off for your spin slightly early or if the pipe wall is a bit under vert you might hit the top of the pipe when you’re coming back down. If you do that it throws you off and you can fall 22ft to the flat bottom of the pipe. All my broken collarbones were from doing that. Falling to my back from 22ft. I had my first helicopter ride in Whistler when I got airlifted to the hospital with a broken collarbone.

I also ended up in hospital a few times with concussions. They were scary! Not knowing what happened and my friends later telling me I asked the same question every minute for hours. When I got concussed in Colorado once the ski patrol asked me where I was and I said New South Wales.

I pushed on after every injury and soon enough the qualification period for the 2010 Olympics began. It started off going well, I was on the National Team travelling around the World on the World Cup Circuit with my teammates who were my best friends. Going from country to country, snowboarding, competing and then going to the after party for each event, I was pretty much living the dream.

But it was also so incredibly hard. Emotionally it was draining and stressful, because you knew if you went bad at a competition you wouldn’t get enough points to qualify for the Olympics. I did terrible at some competitions and that really brought my confidence down. All you really have to do is land 2 runs through the halfpipe at each competition, something you do in training all the time. It sounds easy, like yeah no worries I can do that. But when the stakes are high and everything you want in life is dependent on those 2 runs it can really screw with you mentally. My team mates and I look back on those qualification periods as the best and worst times of our lives.

About halfway through the qualification period for the 2010 Olympics I was dropped from the National Team and then to make matters worse tore the ACL in my left knee. It was devastating!! My world pretty much came crashing down. Getting dropped from the team was heartbreaking enough, but doing my good knee was the worst because I knew that now I couldn’t finish the qualifications and there was no chance I would be able to make it to the Olympics.

I had landed a jump awkwardly at Perisher, only two weeks before I was flying to New Zealand for a world cup. I felt instant excruciating pain in my knee and it had swelled up huge within the next hour. I heard the pop of my ACL on landing which I had heard four years earlier when I’d done my other knee. I was pretty sure I knew that I’d done it and when I saw the team physio later that afternoon he confirmed it.

It was completely devastating. My Olympic dreams were crushed once again. The next day I drove back home from New South Wales. I remember I had to pull over at one point cause I was balling my eyes out so hard I couldn’t even see to drive. The family met me at Orbost and drove me back home to Merricks.

So the Olympics came and went, I wasn’t there and I couldn’t bare to watch it on TV. I didn’t even watch the 2012 London Summer Olympics on TV as I was still too heart broken that I hadn’t made it myself. I never thought about quitting. I couldn’t . Despite every setback, I still had the desire to do it. I needed to achieve my goal and become an Olympian. At times I was so scared that I wouldn’t make it but I knew I had the ability to get there and I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t’ try.

By the time I came back from my second ACL knee reconstruction I hadn’t ridden a halfpipe in over 2 years. I was no longer on the Australian team but luckily I had a few very close friends Bex Sinclair and Pauline from the New Zealand Team. In fact the NZ halfpipe coach was very helpful giving me lifts up the mountain and we were all in the same boat trying to qualify for the games. We spent the Northern Hemisphere season living in Colorado and training together. I took it really easy coming back from my knee injury as two years without riding the pipe was a long time. I did some small competitions in the USA as I needed to earn points to be able to compete at world cup level again after being off the scene for more than a season.

The 5 months of getting back to training and competition went well until the last week of the season when I had a fall and got 3 fractures in my scapula. My friend Bex thought it was weird that I was laughing and didn’t seem to care about it. But I was just happy that I’d made it almost the whole season and that this was only a fracture that would heal in 6 weeks. A hell of a lot better than a knee injury that costs you a year.

After some down time in Australia I headed to New Zealand for training and the upcoming World Cup Olympic Qualifying season. This was it, qualifying for the 2014 Olympic games was around the corner and I had done everything to prepare. Unfortunately this is where politics came into play. Since I had been dropped from the Australian team, they had introduced some younger girls onto their underpinning NSW Institute of Sport team.

For the World Cup Competition each country only has a certain number of spots for their athletes to compete. Now!! I find out that Australia is giving the spots to the younger girls over me despite none of them ever having beaten me at any competition before. We had competed against each other several times in the USA only a few months before. I questioned it but I was showed a clause in the rules where spots are given to NSW Institute scholarship holders over non- scholarship holders no matter the results.

This really threw a spanner in the works as I was freaking out thinking how am I going to qualify for the Olympics if I don’t even have a chance to compete in the qualifying events.

I re-read the rules over and over so I knew exactly what I had to do. Unfortunately though I had to sit out the first few world cup-qualifying events because there was no spot for me. This was extremely frustrating, as I knew I could beat the others and I was losing opportunities to qualify. Luckily after a few world cups each country is awarded extra spots if there riders podium at each event. Thank goodness we have Torah Bright and Holly Crawford who earned us those spots for me to be able to compete.

So I was all set to go to Canada for my first qualifying world cup, but then to my surprise The Australian Olympic winter Institute sent an email denying me the spot saying it was given to another girl, again someone who had never beaten me. I knew according to the Australian rules that spot should be mine so I screen shotted all the relevant information and emailed them right back. They got back to me, apologized and gave me the spot. Thank god! So I was in, I now had a spot to compete at the rest of the world cups and had my chance to qualify.

I achieved a couple of Ok results and started to build my points. Exactly one year out from the Olympics was the official test event in Sochi Russia were the Olympics were to be held. It was also a qualifying world cup. So I sent in my request to compete and my request for Australia to provide me with the letter I needed to get a VISA to enter Russia.

I don’t know if the powers to be, behind the Australian team were against me qualifying but it sure started to feel like they wanted their scholarship holder girls to go over me. My VISA letter never came despite me emailing them every day and my dad calling them in Melbourne and they kept telling us yes it will be there. I was sitting in a hotel in Switzerland by myself for 5 days waiting for my letter to be in my emails each morning like they kept promising. I needed to take the letter to the Russian Embassy Office in Bern Switzerland to get it approved before I could fly to Russia.

But it never came through and I had to change my flight. It was looking like I wouldn’t make it to Russia and I’d miss this super important opportunity to earn qualifying points. Luckily in the final hours I got through to someone on the phone in Russia who worked for the International Snowboarding Federation and they sent me through a Visa approval.

I ended up getting to Russia at midnight before my world cup event. All the rest of the competitors had been there for days training. So I rocked up on the morning of the comp and had to drop straight into this halfpipe I’d never ridden and land a competition run. I fell on my first run, but held it together and landed a safety run on my second. It was a crazy time, I was literally in Russia for 24 hours.

Each world cup was tough as there was a lot on the line. But this time round compared to the 2010 Olympic trials I felt a lot more prepared. I knew that if I just put a safe run down at each Competition I would gain enough points to qualify. I didn’t want to try anything too hard and risk injury as I was well aware that injuries can cost you everything.

My best 2 results came towards the end of the qualification period. In Finland I placed 9th which I was so stoked about because a top 10 finish at a World Cup gives you selection priority over other athletes when it comes down to Australia choosing their final team.

The halfpipe at Finland was literally shiny ice. It was quite terrifying to ride. But that’s what competition comes down to a lot. It could be the worst day of the year and under any other circumstance you wouldn’t even go riding but it’s comp day and you have to go out there and thrown down scary tricks in gnarly conditions. I think that’s how you can get an edge sometimes. Just be willing to make the most of it when others might hesitate.

So around came the last Olympic Qualifying event, I was sitting in the top 30 overall standings and feeling pretty confident of qualifying for the Olympic Games. But nothing’s for sure and it wasn’t over yet. My friend Bex and I printed off a list and worked out all the prospective points of every girl on the ranking list so I knew where I stood and what I’d have to do at the last event. We worked out that even if I fell both runs I’d still qualify but it was still bloody scary as this was everything to me.

It was in Stoneham, Canada, it was -30 degrees and everyone was there for their last ditch effort to qualify for the Olympics. Before my first run so much was going through my head, I was walking up and down the starting area trying to cool my nerves. Finally my turn to drop, I had my music going in my ears and tried to turn off my brain and just ride. I put down my easy safety run to get a score on the board. Phew!

Ten mins later I was back up top waiting for my 2nd and final run. My head was going crazy, when it came time for me to strap my feet into my board in the starting area I was thinking to myself “Ok it doesn’t matter if you fall whatever”, then I was like “what the hell, just go and land you’re run, it’ll be awesome, you’ve got this! “ So the starter gave me the go and just as I was dropping into the halfpipe my random music selection on my ipod was playing Jimmy Barnes, Khe San. You know the one. “the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone” and at that moment I thought to myself, “how unreal, I’m an Australian competing on the other side of the world about to qualify for the Olympic games….
And everything went perfect that run.
A halfpipe run lasts less than a minute, it happened quick but in slow motion. I did my better step up run, a run that I’m really proud of and as soon as I landed my last trick I looked up and saw my best friend Bex , also a competitor with whom I’d shared the highest of highs and lowest of lows with on this long journey. I finished in a confidence boosting 11th place from a field of 30 plus international competitors. It was a surreal moment, I had the biggest ever smile on my face, and that was the single greatest moment of my life because I knew I had just achieved my goal and I was going to the Olympic Games!

Throughout my snowboarding career I’ve had 10 broken bones, 6 surgeries (inc the two ACL’s), 4 serious concussions and countless scrapes and bruises. It was so physically and mentally challenging that sometimes it felt like hell. But for the most part it was the greatest experience I could wish for.

If I could give one piece of advice it would be to believe in your dreams. If you want something badly enough and you truly believe you can do it, never give up, because one day after all your hard work you might just get everything you’ve ever wanted and it will be the greatest feeling you’ve ever known.