Hannah Cole ’17 reflects on running and skiing success

Hannah Cole ’17 is a one-of-a-kind athlete. She played seven sports in grade school and is a member of the women’s cross country, Nordic ski and track and field teams at the College. Such versatility is rare, but her accomplishments in every sport are truly unique. She has twice been named an All-American in both cross country and track. She has also competed in two Nordic national championships.

Cole has been involved with sports from a very young age. She began playing soccer at the age of three and continued until she was a freshman in high school. When she was in second grade, her family moved from upstate New York to Canada. “The Canadian sports system is very different,” she said. “Sports meet just one to two times a week for about 15 or 20 minutes, so I just started doing everything.”

“The first thing I joined was the cross country team, because my brother ran,” she said. “I also played volleyball, basketball, soccer and hockey. I did road racing, which was basically running on the sidewalk, and track and field.”

Before her first year of high school, Cole and her family returned to Honeoye Falls, N.Y. Cole was forced to adjust to the more intense, specialized American sports system. She initially decided to pursue travel hockey and to run at her high school, but her year-round hockey schedule often conflicted with cross country and track meets. Consequently, she chose to stop playing hockey and focused on running.

“I wanted to run because of the kids on my team,” she recalled. “I just fit in with them really well.”

Cole instantly made an impact in cross country. She was the only ninth-grader among her team’s top seven runners.

“It was an awesome opportunity to learn from everyone above me and look to four seniors for leadership and mentorship,” she said.

As a sophomore, Cole tried Nordic skiing because her school did not have a winter track program.

“I wanted to bridge the gap between cross country and track,” she said. “There was a lot of falling down and getting up at the beginning, but a great group of people encouraged me to come back the next year. I developed a love for it.”

She credited Bernie Gardner, a former professional skier who coached her in all three sports, for fostering that passion. “He lives and breathes running and skiing,” she said. “He makes it fun and exciting. One of the greatest things about him is that he has this really special ability to build you up and ground you.”

Gardner also supported Cole throughout the college recruiting process.

“I loved Williams as a school … but at [the beginning of my senior year], I had to decide whether I was going to run here or run and ski at another college,” she recalled. “I did not have the results base that the Williams ski coaches were looking for.”

That changed when a home race was cancelled midway through the season. Gardner instead brought Cole and her teammates to the Eastern Cup, which was paired with a college carnival.

“Williams was there, and luckily I raced well that weekend,” she said. Soon after, she committed to run and ski at the College. “I’ve been incredibly happy here,” she said.

Cole appreciates how each team is unique. She loves the size and talent of cross country, the one-on-one attention she receives from the Nordic coaches and focusing on the steeplechase with a small group of track teammates.

Although every sport is different for Cole, she is a consistently strong competitor. Last year, when the cross country team won the national title, she earned fourth place at the championship meet. As a sophomore, she finished 12th in the 15k classic race at ski nationals and earned a silver medal in the steeplechase championship race.

These accomplishments are particularly impressive because Cole has overcome several health issues during her career. She had a stress fracture during her sophomore cross country season. In Jan. 2016, she became anemic and did not respond to typical treatments. “It was challenging to not have control over fixing the situation and not knowing the timeline,” she said. “I felt like I had been given a different body.”

Nevertheless, after a successful iron transfusion at the end of the school year, she returned to running in the fall. Then, during cross country season, she injured her lower leg and was able to participate in only two meets.

“It was definitely not how I imagined my senior season,” she said, “but it did allow me to step into the captain’s role.” Cross Country Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 said he appreciated her determination, leadership and talent. “Her dedication in training is unsurpassed,” he said. “It is amazing that she is able to prepare for each sport so thoroughly while excelling in the classroom… She is looked up to by all for her character and ability to listen and offer good counsel.”

Nordic Head Coach Jason Lemieux ’01 echoed these sentiments. “Hannah is an extremely dedicated athlete,” he said. “She is a student of the sport and is always interested in discussing training methodology, technique, strategy, nutrition and a variety of topics relating to performance in skiing. Hannah is a very supportive teammate and does a great job combining a focus on individual performance into a positive team environment.”

Cole said the women’s Nordic team has seen significant improvement in her time at the College. “The team has gotten more competitive and cohesive each year,” she said. “We are shooting for a top-three finish sometime this season.”

As she looks ahead to track in the spring, she said she hopes to return to Nationals: “I think it would be wonderful to qualify again and have someone else from the team make it onto the national stage. It is a totally different race when you have a teammate beside you.”

Cole also addressed her post-graduation plans. She majors in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and molecular biology and is applying to chemistry and biochemistry research positions. She is also strongly considering medical school in the future.

However, she may try to continue skiing competitively next year, which would not surprise Lemieux. “I expect to see her continue her love of skiing well past her time at Williams, whether that be with a racing bib on or in a coaching role,” he said.

A cross country and track All-American, Hannah Cole ’17 has been to two Nordic national championships. Photo courtesy of Williams College Nordic Ski Team Blog.