COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
From start to finish a marathon is 26.2 miles long, a 5k is roughly 3.1 miles long, and the average female step is only 2.2 feet in length. For 1st Lt. Hannah Ferrarini, 14th Force Support Squadron officer in-charge of Career Development here, taking life at 2.2 feet at a time was a necessity after having an intense skiing accident during spring break over five years ago.
“When you have something taken away from you that you can’t take back, such as an injury,” Ferrarini said, “pick your wildest goal and do something small to help try and reach it. Just show up every day, it’s important to take it one step at a time.”
Her journey began after tearing up her right knee during her freshman year at the Air Force Academy. She had a good first soccer season, stating ‘Next year was supposed to be my breakout season’.
“We went on a spring break skiing trip,” explained Ferrarini “It sounds very typical, but it was the last run of the day when I sprinted to the last gondola ride up, thinking about how great this last run would be.”
She recalled being almost too confident, racing down and took a jump forcing her to land on some iced over snow.
“I tumbled for a bit and realized pretty much immediately I was injured,” she said. “I knew something was wrong and instead of standing on it, I packed my knee with snow. The ski patrolman found me and brought me down to the emergency room at the bottom of the hill and checks my knee, but at that time it was way too swollen.”
She didn’t hear any bad news at the ER and her friend, whose dad was also her soccer coach, took her in the night of the injury. Her coach asked what had happened in a sheer panic, Ferrarini recalled, and the next day took her to the Air Force Academy’s doctors.
“The doctor was immediately able to tell I tore my ACL,” she said. “That was when the sobbing just started, because I know what that means, that’s a death sentence for any athlete, especially as a freshman getting ready for their sophomore year in college.”
Many other parts of her knee disrupted and torn around her ACL as well, potentially prolonging her recovery even further.
“I had my first surgery in May and began to go through physical therapy,” she said.
Ferrarini took her summer leave to focus on recovering, stating she was hoping the right mindset would help the recovery, putting her back on the field for her sophomore season.
“She’s probably one of the best athletes to come through the program at the academy,” said Larry Friend, head coach of the soccer program at the Air Force Academy. “One of the biggest things that we saw change after the injury was a deeper resiliency and determination. She worked really hard with her trainer during rehab.”
Her physical therapy was complete in five months, allowing her to play again in practice and skirmishes, but during one of her first games back, she collided with an opponent, damaging her knee further.
“Oh man did that hurt,” Ferrarini recalled, “it was one of those things that not only hurt my knee but hurt my stomach, it still hurts my stomach thinking about it. I ended up having surgery again a couple days later and I walked out of that surgery. It didn’t set me back much physically, but it hurt me mentally. It showed I was injured, I wasn’t invincible.”
Coming back from that surgery she explained her excitement for the junior season around the corner. During the summer practices before her third year she felt something in her leg was off. She noticed her leg locking up and having a ‘funny feeling’.
“I told my trainer and got an Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan, unfortunately it came back clean,” Ferrarini said. “My doctor suggested an exploratory surgery to find the issue and fix it quickly. For me, that was the obvious decision.”
When she woke up from surgery she found out her femur had been broken since the original skiing accident almost 2 years prior. She had fragments of bone in her cartilage and the bone was still chipping away. It was much worse than she had anticipated.
“That is what ended up crushing me, my doctor said I wasn’t going to be able to run again and I’d have to be on a profile for the rest of my Air Force career,” Ferrarini said. “At this point I had been kicked twice while I was down metaphorically and I kind of wanted to stay down.”
Not all hope was lost. Her family and friends supported her immensely through her third surgery’s recovery. Her coach kept her on the team as a coach, allowing her to keep the connection to the team strong.
“Once the reality came that she probably wasn’t going to be able to play goal keeper anymore, she became an NCAA student coach,” Friend said. “She took her knowledge of the game and gave it to the next generation of players.”
After she completed her first half-marathon after the injury, Ferrarini completed it first place in her age group. She said she had the ‘bug’ for running after that point.
“When you go through something horrible you find out very quickly your family will support you no matter what,” Ferrarini said. “It quickly became more about my health and me being okay, soccer wasn’t important to my family. They’d love me if I didn’t have a leg anymore.”
Luckily for Ferrarini, the recovery has went better than expected. With the help of the team, her friends and family, she has now completed numerous half and full marathons and has her sights set on beginning triathlon training this year. Her upcoming goal is to complete a half-Ironman in May.
“It’s okay to feel down after having an injury and not get up right away,” Ferrarini said. “It’s tough, it’s really tough being hurt, but you don’t need to recover right away mentally or physically because everyone’s different and it can take some time.”