Former athlete takes to law

Life was in freefall for Nora Pincus after she left high school at 15. But that was a good thing.

Pincus, 26, was an avid ski racer who left school to pursue her dreams on the slopes. She devoted her life to a career in the thin air and snow, evolving from racing to “free skiing.” Those are the crazies who plunge ski-first off towering cliffs in the wildest settings to make a perfect movie shot or to model the latest in gear and apparel.

When she touched ground at 20 after years as a self-proclaimed “ski bum,” she knew it was time to pursue a “real job.” Now, she’s graduating from DU’s Sturm College of Law.

“There wasn’t a lot of money in skiing,” she says. “You can afford to ski all winter, but that’s about it. I did a lot of waiting tables and other jobs.”

But she was seeing the world, flying off 30-foot cliffs and smiling for the camera, with wild settings from Alaska to the French Alps in the background.

When Pincus sets her mind to something, she is committed. She whizzed through the University of Utah in three years, earning a bachelor’s degree in history, before targeting DU. After skiing more than 100 days a year, even while taking a full load of courses, she wasn’t about to give up her passion, but she wanted someplace new.

“I never thought I’d live in Denver,” she says. “But I love it here.”

In addition to her studies and mountain biking with her husband, Joe Hanrahan, a semi-pro mountain biker, Pincus still gets in her skiing. She’s a regular, seen plunging off the steep-sided bowls at Arapahoe Basin all winter.

Now, poised for graduation with a clerkship waiting for her at the Colorado Supreme Court, Pincus says she looks back at some words of encouragement from law professor Lucy Marsh.

“She told us at an orientation that among the people who do well at law school are athletes,” she says. “I think that’s because you’re used to doing the hard work, even when it’s not fun. And there’s a lot about law school that’s not fun.”

Marsh says the observation is the result of some casual polling. But she says there seems to be a correlation between varsity-level sports and law school success.

“It is amazing how strong a predictor that is,” she says. “It might just be that varsity athletes are accustomed to going to practice every single day whether they want to or not. And they know you can’t just wait until the last minute and do well; you just have to do the work every day.”

After her two-year clerkship with the Supreme Court, Pincus is looking forward to a career in environmental and water law.

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