The loss of limb can can be a devastating life change that transforms the way even the simplest tasks are done, but Anchor Point’s Angelica Haakenson is out to prove that she isn’t done living.
Haakenson, a Homer High School freshman, made her racing debut on skis Friday afternoon at the Kenai Klassic ski meet at the Tsalteshi Trails in front of a crowd of prep supporters, all while in a seated position.
The 14-year-old took center stage in a two-lap race around the soccer field at Skyview Middle School, besting two other female racers in a Sit Ski, a chair that is attached and sits atop a pair of cross-country skis for disabled and paralyzed racers. With no leg motion to push forward, all energy is spent from the upper body as the skier double poles across land.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Haakenson said.
Haakenson lost both legs in a Christmas Day car accident three years ago on the Sterling Highway between Ninilchik and Anchor Point. Haakenson was traveling with her mother, Mathany Christine Satterwhite, when the pickup they were in encountered problems.
Haakenson’s grandfather was called to help jump-start the truck with his van, and it was in the middle of that process that Anchor Point resident Larry Pyatt rounded the corner and began sliding on the icy road while attempting to slow.
Pyatt’s SUV struck the van and pinned Haakenson between the van and Satterwhite’s pickup. The collision was severe enough that emergency crews had to carefully extricate Haakenson from the wreckage.
Haakenson was medevacked to Anchorage, where both legs were amputated in order to save her life. At age 11, Haakenson was left with no bipedal way of moving, meaning her swimming dreams were essentially dashed, and her aspirations to take up skiing more seriously were frozen.
However, Friday’s event showed that a world of potential still awaits those who keep digging. With Haakenson leaving her competitors in the dust, the event was an exciting and heartfelt moment.
“You do this every day?” exclaimed a breathless Maria Salzetti to Haakenson upon finishing. Salzetti is a Kenai skier who tried her hand at sit-skiing. “You are amazing!”
Homer assistant ski coach Megan Corazza helped organize the event that was to take place after the girls and boys varsity races, and said Haakenson’s story was one that touched her after Corazza experienced a similar tragedy in her family with the death of a family member. Corazza said shortly after hearing of Haakenson’s experience, she tried reaching out.
“I wrote a letter to her when she was in the hospital,” Corazza said. “I told her we’re going to get you back on skis.”
Haakenson was already an avid swimmer when her accident took place, and skiing was something she had tried but had not made serious attempts at it.
Corazza, a Professional Ski Instructor of America, got in touch with Beth Ann Chamberlain, a U.S. Biathlon Paralympic Development coach from Minnesota. Chamberlain hooked Haakenson up with specialized lessons that brought her to Breckenridge, Colorado, for five days.
Ultimately, Haakenson was able to obtain a Sit Ski, which usually costs upwards of $2,000, free of charge thanks to Challenge Alaska, an adaptive ski and snowboard school in Anchorage.
The Homer frosh said skiing in her first race Friday was something she will remember, adding that her disability is not something that holds her down.
“I mean, you shouldn’t act like it was somebody’s fault,” Haakenson said.
Corazza said Haakenson’s story is one of perseverance that anyone can learn from.
“I hope it opens doors for the disabled and injured athletes,” she said.
The Kenai Klassic is a dual-technique race, commonly known as a skiathlon, that features both disciplines of nordic skiing. Racers started Friday on classic skis and raced a three-kilometer loop, then entered a transition zone and quickly changed onto skate skis, all while the clock is ticking, for a second 3K loop.
Kenai Central’s Addison Gibson powered her way to the girls victory, while teammate Karl Danielson did the same in the boys race.
The Grace Christian boys nipped SoHi for the team title by a scant 13 seconds, which combined the top four racers from each school, while Kenai won the girls team title by 3 minutes, 18 seconds, over Soldotna.
Gibson won with a time of 21 minutes, 27 seconds, over the 6K course, beating runner-up Riana Boonstra by 1:37 and third-place Kellie Arthur by 2:20, and said the cold temperatures over the past week made for sluggish snow.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re going that fast,” Gibson remarked. “But it’s the same for everyone.”
When the mercury drops, so does the moisture level in snow, which is essentially sucked dry of water, multiplying the friction between the snow and ski.
Danielson crossed the finish line in 17 minutes, 25 seconds, beating Grace Christian’s Luke Fritzel by 55 seconds. Jeremy Kupferschmid of SoHi was third, 1:32 behind Danielson, who was able to smoothly change from classic to freestyle skis to keep his edge over the competition.
“If you try to do everything all at once, you’ll make mistakes,” Danielson said. “You just have to stay calm and undo the bindings one by one.”
Both Danielson and Gibson spent time in Anchorage three weeks ago racing at the U.S. National Championship meet, where they caught a glimpse of national-level talent.
The experience paid off as both race winners had no sweat building up an advantage over their nearest rivals at Tsalteshi, and both harbor goals of finishing top-10 at the high school state meet in late February.
At the Seward Invitational on Saturday at the divide ski area, the wins went to Danielson and Gibson.
In a six-kilometer freestyle, Danielson skied 14:56 for the win, while Homer’s Jacob Davis was second at 15:48. Gibson was at 16:55, while runner-up Ruby Lindquist of Seward crossed at 17:23.
Friday at Tsalteshi
Team results — 1. Kenai, 1:34:17; 2. Soldotna, 1:37:35; 3. Homer, 1:40:54; 4. Grace Christian, 1:45:53.
Individual results — 1. Addison Gibson, Kenai, 21:27; 2. Riana Boonstra, Kenai, 23:04; 3. Kellie Arthur, Soldotna, 23:47; 4. Autumn Daigle, Homer, 23:48; 5. Maria Salzetti, Kenai, 24:02; 6. Sonora Martin, Soldotna, 24:16; 7. Cameron Blackwell, Soldotna, 24:41; 8. Hannah Delker, Soldotna, 24:51; 9. Katia Holmes, Homer, 25:21; 10. Isabella Dammeyer, Soldotna, 25:23; 11. Zoe Stonorov, Homer, 25:23; 12. Katie Delker, Soldotna, 25:31; 13. Abigail Beveridge, Grace, 25:36; 14. Anya Danielson, Kenai, 25:44; 15. Erika Arthur, Soldotna, 25:50; 16. Brita Restad, Homer, 26:24; 17. Grace Annett, Grace, 26:43; 18. Mazzy Jackson, Grace, 26:44; 19. Anna McLaughlin, Grace, 26:50; 20. Dareena Doyle, Kenai, 26:53; 21. Elise Kempainen, Kenai, 27:12; 22. Mickinzie Ticknor, Kenai, 27:45; 23. Valerie DeMarzo, Grace, 28:15; 24. Kate Bering, Homer, 30:13; 25. Ellianna Kniegge, Grace, 31:15.
Team results — 1. Grace Christian, 1 hour, 17 minutes, 44 seconds; 2. Soldotna, 1:17:57; 3. Homer, 1:24:18; 4. Kenai, 1:28:06.
Individual results — 1. Karl Danielson, Kenai, 17:25; 2. Luke Fritzel, Grace, 18:20; 3. Jeremy Kupferschmid, 18:57; 4. Joshua Shuler, Soldotna, 19:14; 5. Jack Harris, Soldotna, 19:32; 6. Jacob Davis, Homer, 19:38; 7. Avi Johnson, Grace, 19:59; 8. Denver Waclawski, Homer, 20:06; 9. Aiden Gannon, Grace, 20:08; 10. Bradley Walters, Soldotna, 20:14; 11. Cole Fritzel, Grace, 20:17; 12. Caleb Rauch, Homer, 20:49; 13. Jode Sparks, Soldotna, 21:15; 14. Joseph Dammeyer, Soldotna, 22:24; 15. Will Wallace, Grace, 22:45; 16. Warren Metzger, Grace, 23:02; 17. Lance Chilton, Soldotna, 23:14; 18. Tristan Summers, Kenai, 23:24; 19. Erik Jones, Grace, 23:31; 20. Josh Foster, Kenai, 23:34; 21. Billy Morrow, Kenai, 23:43; 22. Andy Super, Homer, 23:45; 23. Ben Kettle, Homer, 24:02.
Girls Sit Ski — 1. Angelica Haakenson, Homer, 6:12; 2. Addison Gibson, Kenai, 7:24; 3. Maria Salzetti, Kenai, 7:32; 4. Isabella Panmmyer, Soldotna, 9:09; 5. Aiyana Cline, Homer, 10:22; 6. Mykenna Foster, soldotna, 11:34.
Saturday at the divide ski area
Individual 6-kilometer freestyle results
1. Karl Danielson, Ken, 14:56; 2. Jacob Davis, Hom, 15:48; 3. Caleb Rauch, Hom, 15:59; 4. Jack Harris, Sol, 16:01; 5. Josh Shuler, Sol, 16:01; 6. Jeremy Kupferschmid, Sol, 16:21; 7. Bradley Walters, Sol, 16:38; 8. Jode Sparks, Sol, 16:45; 9. Denver Waclawski, Hom, 17:10; 10. Joseph Dammeyer, Sol, 17:26; 11. Lance Chilton, Sol, 18:12; 12. Egor Sturdy, Sew, 18:44; 13. Billy Morrow, Ken, 18:44; 14. Josh Foster, Ken, 18:47; 15. Tristan Summers, Ken, 19:00; 16. Andy Super, Hom, 19:16; 17. Giddeon Collier, Ken, 19:58; 18. Mathew Grzybowski, Ken, 21:57.
Individual 6-kilometer freestyle results
1. Addison Gibson, Ken, 16:55; 2. Ruby Lindquist, Sew, 17:23; 3. Riana Boonstra, Ken, 17:41; 4. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 18:25; 5. Kellie Arthur, Sol, 18:31; 6. Sonora Martin, Sol, 18:52; 7. Maria Salzetti, Ken, 19:00; 8. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 19:41; 9. Isabella Dammeyer, Sol, 19:42; 10. Hannah Delker, Sol, 19:52; 11. Zoe Stonorov, Hom, 19:52; 12. Katie Delker, Sol, 20:07; 13. Sadie Lindquist, Sew, 20:24; 14. Erika Arthur, Sol, 20:37; 15. Anya Danielson, Ken, 20:51; 16. Dareena Doyle, Ken, 21:27; 17. Emmalee Moore, Sew, 21:37; 18. Elise Kempainen, Ken, 21:48.