After spending most of her young lifetime on the ice, Vankleek Hill figure skater Hannah Dawson is now enjoying the experience of getting to know and love her hometown.
The winner of the 2019 Canadian Women’s Junior figure skating championships announced on May 26 that she is retiring from the sport after having her inaugural senior season shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dawson is working at the Windsor Tavern and says she is just enjoying spending time with friends and family in the small town she was born, but has never really had a chance to experience due to all the travel required to compete in figure skating at such a high level.
“I’ve never lived full-time in Vankleek Hill – I haven’t really lived here since I was seven,” points out Dawson, who says her job at The Windsor has helped ease her transition back to small-town life. “It’s made my transition so much easier and it’s really fun to just meet new people. My coworkers are the most amazing people – they are so much fun to be around.”
Still just 19 years of age, Dawson intends to continue working and living in Vankleek Hill for at least another year and has plans to further her education, beginning in September of 2021. She says leaving the sport after the 2020 season to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse specializing in mental health issues was her intention all along and that competing in the 2022 Olympics was never really in the cards.
“When I planned out my (2020) year for skating, it was supposed to be my last year anyway,” Dawson says. “I kinda figured I would move on with my life and go to school and travel.”
With her planned final season derailed in March by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dawson had more time to reflect on what she wanted in life and decided the time was now right to end her skating career instead of waiting until the end of the season.
“With everything that happened with COVID-19, I didn’t know when I would be able to get back on the ice and I didn’t just want to sit around all year waiting” Dawson recalls. “I was trying to wrap my head around what to do and one day it just clicked and I thought, it’s time to move on.”
Winning the 2019 Canadian Women’s Junior title capped an amazing comeback for Dawson, who had finished 15th in the event the previous season. She also had to overcome a fractured fibula injury which she suffered at the start of the 2018 season. Getting back into form required a tremendous amount of training and hard work, but it all paid off when she ascended to the top of the podium at the 2019 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Saint John, New Brunswick. The entire event was extremely special to Dawson, who candidly admits to always having had a preference for performing over training and to struggles with her own personal mental health.
“My favorite thing when I was skating was always the competitions,” Dawson says. “I like to dress up; I like to do my hair and make-up; I like to show off at competition, but when it came down to the real hard work at the rink I had a lot of difficulty with that and with mental health problems as well. Trying to push through (training) was really hard for me and I think for my health (retirement from figure skating) was definitely the right decision.”
Despite the sudden ending, Dawson has fond memories of her first and only season of Senior competition.
“It didn’t go maybe as planned but I did get so many experiences out of it and I got to travel so it was a good year to finish on,” Dawson reflects, adding she has zero regrets about stepping away from the sport and potentially missing out on a chance to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2022.
“As I grew as a person and as a skater, I realized there are more important things in life. I’ve always had a dream to help people and I wanted to start as soon as I can to become a nurse, so I’m moving on to my next dream.”