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Cancer survivor turns energies to extreme watersports, community service

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When she was only 15, Vicki Hanson of Merrifield was among the first in Minnesota to be diagnosed with a rare form of what was considered terminal ovarian cancer.

The outlook was extremely grim for Vicki, but a new treatment at the University of Minnesota combined with chemotherapy cured her.

“At 15, you don’t understand what cancer is,” she said. “You don’t mentally feel sick.”

She feels that because she was young, with little responsibility, she was able to focus all her energy on getting better.

Vicki believes that her competitive nature helped her to beat the cancer.

It’s that competitive nature that today, years later, fuels her love of outdoor extreme sports like kiteboarding and wakeboarding.

“I’ve always been an outdoors person, getting into any sport available,” Vicki said. “The cancer opens up your eyes to not waste life.”

Recently, Vicki was nominated to star in an adventure film called “Among the Wild,” produced by an independent film company from the Twin Cities. Though she wasn’t selected, the nomination shows how active Vicki is.

Vicki’s history is in water sports — water skiing and barefoot water skiing. She’s also a downhill skier.

“I was naturally just excited to learn new watersports,” she said of learning to kiteboard. “I was pumped because it was something to do outside.”

A relatively new sport, kiteboarding involves a large kite that powers a rider on a board across the water or a snowboard across a frozen lake. Riders are harnessed to the kite and control it with a bar.

Working the kite in the wind, riders can achieve high jumps and high speeds.

Vicki started kiteboarding six years ago. She learned to kiteboard from Todd Hanson. He started as her kiteboarding teacher, but Vicki wasn’t just hooked to the sport. Todd became her husband.

Vicki and Todd are often seen flying large, colorful kites on Pelican and other area lakes.

This year, Vicki took first place in the women’s division of a 14-mile kiteboarding race on frozen Mille Lacs Lake. She came in fourth among men and women combined.

She and Todd also built a terrain park behind their home on the south end of Pelican Lake. They constructed a rail and a jump, and use a winch to pull them across the water when there’s no wind to kiteboard.

They specifically chose to live where they do for kiteboarding, she said. The shallow water behind their house is ideal for the sport.

Sports aside, Vicki is also involved in the community. A Lions Club member for six years, she’s president of the Whitefish Area Lions. She was also named Lion of the Year in 2011.

As president, she’s created a new fundraiser and works to spread awareness of what the Lions do in the community.

Money from the Lions Club goes back into the community in the form of scholarships and giving to families in need.

Vicki said she got involved in the Lions as a way to give back to the community that helped her and her family through her illness at a young age.

“You know how much of a direct impact it can make on someone’s survival or recovery,” she said.

Vicki continues to live by her own personal motto: “Create your life as a joyous reflection of who you are.”