In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 22, 2018

Net Return — Former Cancer Patient Wins Gold With USA Sled Hockey Team

By In the Loop

When a cancer diagnosis led to an amputation for Hanna Hughes, she thought her days of competing in sports were over. Then she discovered sled hockey. And today, Hanna has her sights set winning gold at the 2022 Paralympic Games.

When a cancer diagnosis led to an amputation, Hanna Hughes thought her days of playing competitive sports were over. Then she discovered sled hockey.

Though Hanna Hughes was a longtime hockey fan, she never expected to play the game. Soccer was Hanna's sport — or was, until she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. As we wrote here, that diagnosis would lead Hanna, then a standout on the Rochester Lourdes High School soccer team, to have her right leg amputated as part of her treatment at Mayo Clinic. "I thought my days in sports were over," she tells us.

That changed a few years later, after a classmate at the University of Minnesota – Duluth asked Hanna if she'd ever thought about playing hockey. "I thought he was kidding," Hanna tells The Med City Beat. "We were both sitting there in wheelchairs." But the question was no joke. The other student was a sled hockey player, and within a week Hanna was on the ice. Before long, she was hooked on the sport. And she was good at it, earning a spot on the Minnesota Wild sled hockey team.

Her sporting success didn't end there. In 2016, Hanna was selected as a member of the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey team. She made the 2017–2018 roster as well, and earlier this month helped propel the team to a gold medal win at the Women's International Para Ice Hockey Cup in the Czech Republic. The U.S. team bested Canada 1-0 in a thrilling victory.

The big win was made possible in part, Hanna suspects, by some good news the team received the night before the match. USA Hockey, the governing body of hockey in the United States, announced it would be officially recognizing women's sled hockey — a crucial step in the team's pursuit of a trip to the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing. "That gave us a little extra fire going into the final," Hanna says. "We all take our sport very seriously, and it's a dream for all of us to get to the Paralympics."

It's not the only dream Hanna's pursuing. She's working on a master's degree, recently started a job at Medtronic, and broke ground on a house in the Twin Cities. Hanna also shares her story as a keynote speaker, offering "lessons of perseverance, passion, positivity, and pursuing one's dreams despite obstacles." Which is something she knows more than a little about. "I definitely think there is a misconception about athletic ability and physical fitness of a lot of disabled people," she tells The Med City Beat. "I think people just expect us to sit at home and not be involved with a lot of different things. But that's totally not the case, especially with me."

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Tags: Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Osteosarcoma, Patient Stories

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