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Norwich Rallies To Send Off Freestyle Skier Bound For Sochi

Norwich elementary students gathered with other sports fans in the gymnasium of the Marion Cross School Tuesday to give a rousing send-off to a famous alumna soon to compete at the Olympics in Sochi.  

Twenty-seven-year-old Hannah Kearney is looking to become the first freestyle skier to win back-to-back gold medals.

The ceremony started with what has become to this champion athlete a familiar refrain. The elementary school orchestra played a stirring rendition of the Olympics theme.

As Hannah Kearney stood smiling under the gymnasium scoreboard, a two-time former Olympian from Norwich, Mike Holland, wished her luck. Holland gave her a few going-away gifts designed to keep her from getting homesick in Sochi. 

“These things are going to allow Hannah to eat, breathe and sleep Norwich while far away in Russia. The first thing I have for her is a bacon, egg and cheese McWhit’s,” Holland joked.

Locals laughed. “McWhit’s” is a popular sandwich from the town's general store, Dan and Whit’s. Holland also gave Kearney a bottle of Norwich air and a sleeping mask.

Her mother Jill, director of the Norwich recreation program, teared up as she talked about how much heart Norwich has, and how important that’s been to her daughter.

“You don’t get to go to the Olympics without a lot of heart,” she noted.

She showed the kids a stuffed owl that she will be taking to Sochi, representing the town mascot. 

Kearney’s dad Tom added a few words of encouragement before hugging his famous daughter, who then took the stage. The skier noted that she is one of the few American Olympians who have chosen to stay in their hometowns, rather than moving away to a remote training site.

“Because it’s been kind to me and it’s been a successful place for me to train and compete, and this is my home base and it’s where I feel comfortable,” she explained.

And of course the home-town star had some words of advice for younger athletes gazing up at her as they sat cross-legged on the gym floor.

“So follow your dreams, as cheesy as that sounds. That’s a good place to start and you have all the support you need here, so thank you for supporting me and making me feel important. I will be representing you in Sochi in less than two weeks,” she told them.

The celebration ended with more music from the very young audience, who all seemed to know the words of their town anthem—“The Bells of Norwich”— by heart.

Wearing about a half dozen cardboard medals presented to her by second graders,  Hannah Kearney waved good-bye and headed off to the gym. Four years ago, in Vancouver, the freestyler and mogul master brought back a gold medal, and right now she thinks she is skiing at the top of her game.

Her main challenge, she says, will be dealing with the pressure of going for another gold.

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