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From The Classroom To The Hill, Denver Pioneer's Katie Hensien's Journey To The Olympics Is No Ordinary Feat

DENVER (CBS4)- "I couldn't really believe it at the moment. I was like, 'No way, this can't be real,'" Katie Hensien recalls the moment she found out she would be going to the Olympics as a member of the United States Alpine Ski Team. "All that rush and emotion just really hit me. After that phone call, I cried because my childhood dream came true."

Katie Hensien
(credit: University of Denver)

Katie Hensien is in her fourth season with the Denver Pioneers ski team. Currently, she's missing a few weeks of collegiate competition, because she's out in Beijing making her Olympic debut.

Hensien is no ordinary Olympian. Over the past four years, Katie has mastered the art of balance, juggling competing in Europe for the U.S. National Team, racing for the University of Denver, and somewhere in between, finding time to get a college education

"I don't know how she does it. She's waking up at one or two in the morning to take class online. She's doing a really great job. She's a great student and a great ski racer," head DU Alpine coach Joonas Rasanen said.

Andy Leroy was the head alpine coach at DU for 15 seasons. He is now with the University of Colorado. Katie's ability to balance academics and athletics was one of the many things that set her apart from so many of the talented athletes he's coached over the years

"You could just see her passion for sport and her desire to also get an education along the way, which is not easy. Most of the people she's competing against across the pond don't have to pick up a book and study through the middle of the night, or take online exams at 2:00 in the morning. And balancing it is something she did great at," Leroy said.

"I feel like I never have a break. Being in Europe is very demanding and being able to make sure you can keep up with school is definitely not easy," Hensien said.

Katie Hensien 4
(credit: CBS)

Just how rare is Katie's feat of competing in the Olympics while earning a degree? Well, she is the first current DU student-athlete to compete for the United States in 50 years! Hensien hopes to be an example for aspiring Olympians and encourage the next generation to pursue their athletic and academic dreams.

"I'm pretty shocked. It's crazy to think this actually happened during my college career. I'm honored and excited to represent not only DU but also the U.S. in the Olympics. I just hope I can inspire the younger generation to do the same as me," Hensien said.

Hensien has started in 20 World Cup events. In this year's collegiate season, she's collected five top-five finishes. All the past experience has Katie eager to tackle her Olympic competition.

"It was good to put some skiing together in the world cup and then coming back home for a little bit and representing DU at some races, getting that confidence has definitely help me go in to the Olympics feeling prepared and ready.

Hensien's Olympic debut isn't the be-all end-all. In many ways, Katie's first trip to the Olympics is just the beginning.

"I think the biggest thing for me is just embracing it all, enjoying every moment, but also working to that goal of trying to being best in the world. The Olympics is part of that path. Looking to perform my best but also experience something not everyone gets to experience and enjoy it," Hensien said.

Katie Hensien 3
(credit: University of Denver)

All of Katie's college teammates and coaches can't wait to watch her shine in Beijing.

"I don't know where we will be when she is racing. I don't know what the time difference is. But everyone will have eyes glued to the TV when she's going," Rasanen said.

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