Whether skiing for Team USA or the Pioneers, Katie Hensien dreams big

Shooting hoops in the gym, every kid dreams of hitting a game-winning three-point basket just as the buzzer sounds. On the baseball diamond, every child imagines stepping into the box facing a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and then smacking a fastball over the outfield wall. On the gridiron, every tyke’s fantasy is to catch a Hail Mary pass in the end zone right as time expires.

But Katie Hensien’s childhood dream had her standing atop a mountain on the world’s biggest stage with an opportunity to win a gold medal.

Hensien’s dream became a reality in February on the Ice River course at the Yanqing National Alpine Ski Centre at the Beijing 2022 Olympics. The University of Denver senior and member of the Pioneer ski team waited her turn as American teammates Mikaela Shiffrin and Paula Moltzan made their runs. She watched former DU teammate Amelia Smart, skiing for Canada, make her run. Finally, it was Hensien’s turn.

“This was always a childhood goal of mine,” she says. “It’s definitely a different experience from other races, and you can’t ignore that—where you are in the world, who your competition is—you have that in the back of your mind. But you really have to focus on your run and skiing the best you can.”

Her first run did not go as well as she had hoped, landing her in 31st place. Her second run was much stronger, and she finished 26th overall—second best among Team U.S.A. women and one spot ahead of Smart.

“Being the first time on the Olympic stage, you can’t hold such high expectations for yourself, knowing how hard and deep the field is,” Hensien says. “I was proud of my second run. It was definitely a highlight of my Olympic experience, and hopefully I can take that on to the next four years.”

Not since the 1972 Winter Games in Japan has a current DU student-athlete competed for the U.S. in alpine skiing. She learned to ski as a little girl growing up in Washington. And in 2011, she was part of the inaugural class of skiers at Keely’s Camp, the first ski-racing camp for girls in North America. Her mentor and coach there was Libby Lublow, a member of the U.S. Ski Team who competed in the 2006 Olympics.

“My dream was to be just like her,” says Hensien, who attended the camp through middle and high school. “The camp brings that woman intensity. It’s great that girls can come [there] and feel supported and feel pushed.”

Two years ago, Hensien returned to Keely’s Camp as a coach. Last year, Keely’s Camp became her sponsor on the World Cup circuit. This summer, under the Katie Hensien Scholarship, one girl will have all her expenses paid at the camp.

“Ski racing is so expensive,” Hensien say. “Being able to use my name and experience to help girls with that expense and also gain the tools needed to get to that next level … I just love giving back because I had so many people help me get to where I am today. It really has come full circle.”

Hensien, who will graduate in June with a degree in marketing, wrapped up her collegiate skiing career in March by winning the NCAA national championship in the women’s slalom. She became the 96th skier in DU history to earn an individual national championship. 

In addition to competing for the Pioneers and in the Olympics, she is one of only a few skiers on the World Cup circuit who is a full-time student-athlete balancing a full class schedule.

“It’s a point of pride, because it takes a certain type of individual to be able to do this, and it’s not for everyone,” Hensien says. As hard as it can be, she credits her competing demands with helping her “become the person I am today.”

Hensien’s top-30 finish in the Olympics has her hoping she can one day realize her childhood dream of winning an Olympics medal.

“I’ve never known what putting 100% of my life into skiing looks like and what that could possibly mean to me,” she says. “I definitely want to see where my skiing career can take me.” 

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