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Future Paralympics Hopeful Trains for Debut in Nordic Biathlon

Former patient considering pursuit of sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship.

It is too early to know what will happen, but never too soon to dream. So, there are times when Hannah Locke ponders not what might have been, but rather what might be if she wins a gold medal.

The 16-year-old former Shepherd Center patient is pursuing a new dream following a spring 2013 automobile accident in which she sustained a complete T-4 spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

She no longer plays volleyball, basketball and tennis for Coahulla High School near north Georgia’s city of Dalton. Yet she’s back in school and deciding whether she wants to compete as a Paralympic athlete in the sport of Nordic Biathlon in the 2018 Games.

Hannah has participated in a training session in Breckenridge, Colo., with U.S. Biathlon Paralympic coach Rob Rosser.

“The sport is a combination of shooting (rifle marksmanship) and cross-country skiing,” she explained. “I used to do Alpine skiing for fun. Shooting is new to me. I sit in what they call a ‘Sit Ski.’ I have two poles and I use my arms to push.”

It wasn’t by accident that Hannah’s interest in the sport piqued.

In fall 2013, Hannah heard a speech by Atlanta’s Scott Rigsby, the first double amputee to complete an Ironman Triathlon, and there, the speaker recruited her.

“Scott asked Hannah because they are trying to get more girls into biathlon,” said Hannah’s mother, Mandy Locke. “And because she’s so young, there’s time to get her prepared for the Paralympics.”

Hannah traveled to Breckenridge, Colo., in December 2013 for Nordic Biathlon training in conjunction with Disabled Sports USA.

“She is young, tough and motivated, so the sky is the limit with regard to her potential,” Rosser said. “Biathlon takes an athlete who is up for the challenge and willing to put a lot of time and effort into it. The most important thing she can do is get on snow as often as possible.”

 That is proving tricky, as Hannah continues her rehabilitation in Georgia. Time will tell.

“She’s never been depressed or sad,” said Hannah’s mother, Mandy Locke. “She’s never asked, ‘Why?’ one time.  She’s always been positive and ready to go, like, ‘What’s next?’”

Written by Matt Winkeljohn
Photos Courtesy of Hannah Locke

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.