Purchase Photo Reprint Weekly Herald/CHRIS GOODENOW
Meadowdale graduate Hanna Fjortoft (right) and her friend from crew, Anna Stehle, both 21 and incoming seniors at the University of Washington, practice rowing together in a two-person training shell, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 at the University of Washington in Seattle.
She would help the Meadowdale Mavericks girls basketball team return to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year, she'd finish out her senior year and then head off to college to play basketball, most likely on a scholarship.
What could go wrong? The all-American girl had everything going for her. She headlined a prestigious high school basketball program, her GPA hovered around perfect and she was a member of the student council. Oh, and she also lettered in track and volleyball.
What she didn't count, however, was that rogue wave waiting to knock her over.
For Fjortoft, that symbolic wave came crashing down on her midway through her senior year when she tore her cruciate ligament (ACL) during a game. It not only washed away her final high school season, but her basketball career altogether. The Mavericks did return to state that season.
“I had a really tough time accepting my injury,” said Fjortoft, who started playing basketball at the age of 5. “I remember going to practice to watch, but I always had to leave because I would get too emotional. I played basketball for such a long time that I really didn't know what I was going to do. My whole life revolved around it. And that was scary.”
With her basketball plans erased for good, the ambitious, future dean's list student simply rewrote her blueprint. On a whim, and shortly after recovering from her injury, Fjortoft tried her hand at rowing. Crew soon became the replacement she was looking for. It also became her next passion.
“I didn't know anything about the sport when I went out,” Fjortoft said. “But I soon fell in love with it. And I didn't need to worry about my knee, that was nice.”
That was three years ago. As a college freshman, she earned a spot on the University of Washington crew team as a walk-on and has been rowing ever since.
Today, Fjortoft, a senior this fall, is preparing to complete her modest collegiate rowing career, which according to her has been a humbling experience. Unlike in basketball, Fjortoft is not a standout or a rowing superstar. But that's fine by her.
“I have come to accept that I am not a starter, but I am just so proud to be a part of this prestigious program,” said Fjortoft, who is majoring in communications. “I've grown so much since my high school years. There's so much more to life than a sport. I have absolutely the best friends and a wonderful family. What else can you want? I love crew, but I am not a star and I am OK with that.”
As a junior, she rowed in the three-seat junior shell that won in the Seattle Times' Women's Eight at the Class Day Regatta. She also took part in the victorious two-seat boat in the Open Eight race at the Windermere Cup Regatta.
As a sophomore, she competed on the winning Classless team in the Women's Varsity/Novice Challenge at Class Day and participated in the victorious three-seat boat at the Women's Open Eight during the 25th annual Windermere Cup Regatta.
“I think it was a really inspiring choice to still want to pursue athletics after her injury in high school,” former UW crew teammate Erin Lauber said. “Hanna's joining the rowing team helped give her the best of both worlds; she wouldn't be at risk of hurting her knee further and she could be on a team and thrive.”
Regardless of her status on the water, Fjortoft has always shined when it comes to academics. She recently earned the University of Washington Excellence Award for posting a sterling 3.97 GPA for spring quarter. She's also made the dean's list five of the last nine quarters. As part of her major, Fjortoft is spending the summer interning at a local radio station. After graduation, she'd like to pursue a career in broadcasting, preferably on TV. If that's not enough, the busy Edmonds native works two other jobs. She's a waitress at a local restaurant and she works the snack shop at Lynnwood Golf Course.
“Hanna has an infectious personality. Even if it's the first time meeting her you feel like she could be your best friend because she's genuine, easygoing and hilarious,” Lauber said. “She's the type of person that walks into the boathouse and makes it fun for everyone around her.”
The University of Washington women's crew season begins in October and concludes with the NCAA Championships in late May.