By Jenny Neyman
You might not think you know Heidi Hanson but you probably do, if not by name then by sight, or reputation, or as a source of inspiration. If you somehow don’t, you should.
If you’ve been on the Kenai-Soldotna stretch of Kalifornsky Beach Road between about 4 and 5 p.m. — any day, any season, any weather — you’ve likely seen the Soldotna resident trucking along the Unity Trail. She’s the neon-accessorized streak on bike or foot, bulky Beats headphones clamped around her head, knee-length basketball shorts flapping in her pace-created breeze, only slowing down if she’s got a garbage bag in hand and is picking up trash strewn alongside of the road.
If you’ve watched women’s hockey at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, you couldn’t help but notice Hanson, her 5-foot-9 frame in signature neon-orange gloves screaming around the ice with tanklike invulnerability, but with speed and agility armored vehicles could never hope to attain.
If you’ve played bingo or pull tabs in the area in the last 20 years, Hanson probably sold you your card. You’d remember it. Her exuberant laugh and unabashed, dimple-framed grin are contagious, all the more striking coming from a tattooed weightlifter who, at first glance, you might not expect to be so genuinely, gregariously friendly.
If you’re a central Kenai Peninsula resident with a Facebook account, Hanson’s photos from her frequent bear-viewing drives to the Cooper Landing area — a hobby she pursues with as much determination as her healthy lifestyle — have likely flickered through your feed. Perhaps you’re one of the 1,346-and-counting followers of her Believe to Achieve page, where she chronicles her path to lose weight, gain health and find continued motivation to keep on keeping on.
Or maybe you’re someone needing inspiration along a similar path. If so, you just might meet Hanson face to face, as 15 peninsula residents since May already have, when she shows up to give you a brand-new bike and a firsthand example of how believing in yourself can lead to achieving dreams.
And what is Hanson’s dream? Merely the simplest, yet hardest benchmark of all — living life on her terms, which means being healthy, happy and true to herself. Nowadays, at 45, she makes that look easy, like she does a slapshot, or keeping a blistering pace while biking into a wall of wind and rain, or being in the right place at the right time to see a sow and cubs meander out of the woods. She’s all grins and shrinking pants sizes, striking celebratory poses in her collection of superhero T-shirts.
But it’s been a long road to get there, laden with steeper trials, both emotional and physical, than any of the mountain trails she hikes all summer long. And all overcome without the benefit of what she now provides to others — an outside source of encouragement, motivation and demonstration that things can change.