Minnesota Hockey Journal

December 2018

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Page 18 of 31

Hanna Hughes went from not knowing a thing about sled hockey, to being an on-ice star with the Minnesota Wild and Team USA sled squads HEN HANNA HUGHES MADE HER WAY through the halls of the University of Minnesota-Duluth during her freshman year of college, she was just looking for an elevator. Along the way, a chance encounter ignited a new passion—an opportunity to pioneer a growing sport for disabled women. Ezra McPhail, a fellow student, was also looking for an elevator. As the two searched together during their first week of school, McPhail struck up a conversa- tion with Hughes. "Have you ever thought about playing hockey?" he asked. Hughes looked down at her wheelchair, and then over at McPhail's. She thought he was joking. "I didn't really know what he was talking about," she said. McPhail took out his phone and showed Hughes a video of sled hockey. Hughes, a former soccer player forced to stop playing a few years prior, was eager to stay active. "I really thought my days of sports were over, so I definitely was nervous trying a new sport," she said. "But I think I was excited, too, because I wanted to get back into something else. I was hoping I could find something again that would give me that competitive edge back." Those nerves quickly vanished. McPhail brought Hughes to the rink on campus one quiet morning so she could try it out. The moment Hughes got into in a sled, she knew it would be more than just a hobby. Still today, Hughes' enthusiasm for the sport is as strong as ever. The 25-year-old earned a spot on the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey Team for the third consecutive year, and is determined to help grow the sport around the world. Not that long ago, though, Hughes' future had seemed uncertain. In an instant, her life was turned upside down. AN UNCLEAR FUTURE During her sophomore year of high school, the Rochester, Minn., native was playing in her spring indoor soccer league when she started feeling pain in her right hip. An avid soccer player, Hughes sus- pected a sports injury and began phys- ical therapy to help the swelling in her hip go down. Seeing no relief, she underwent an MRI, and received a diag- nosis she never saw coming: a grape- fruit-sized tumor on her right hip. It was osteosarcoma—bone cancer. "It definitely was a shock," Hughes said. "I had been healthy growing up. I was really active, so it was a shock to every- body because that's not something you expect for a 16-year-old." b y E L I Z A B E T H B O G E R RIDE Bone cancer and a leg amputation has not stopped Hanna's fierce competitive spirit. D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 | M H J ON L I N E . C O M 19

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