As she approached her ninth birthday, trapped in a listless body, Hannah Jordan had been doubting whether her life was worth living.
Now 18, Jordan is ready to race a bicycle up Gibraltar Road in the Hillclimb World Championships on Saturday, October 19.
Her transformation from severe malaise to being one of the top junior cyclists in the country came about because of her own resolve and technology that supplements her body’s defective energy system. A nutritional product developed in Santa Barbara is a key to her current regimen.
“I was diagnosed with an unknown metabolic disease,” Jordan said last week. “Most people have a backup tank; their body stores sugar or glucose. Mine doesn’t have it, can’t store it.”
In 30 mortifying seconds, she summarized the challenges she faced as a child in Tulsa, Oklahoma: “When I was 4, I wore 12-month snap-up pants. My head was in the 95th percentile; my body wasn’t on the chart. My mom called me a walking bobblehead. I was in and out of hospitals. My heart was enlarged, my gut was shutting down, lungs collapsing, my brain was sagging on the bottom of my skull, and my blood sugar was as low as nine and over 600 — which is kind of fatal either way. On top of that, we had a house fire; my brother has autism; my mother has MS [multiple sclerosis].”
Many times, she recalled thinking, “I could just stay put and just die. Nobody would judge me or blame me. If I didn’t have a purpose, I thought I could die.”
But at age 9, she said, “I had an epiphany. I decided on living.” Her purpose became life itself. It required her always to be attired with a dangling tube through which calories were pumped into her stomach, 24/7. Kids who picked her last for playground games did not know what a competitor raged inside her.
It came bursting out when Jordan started riding bicycles. She learned at age 13½ on a bike that had bad brakes. “I crashed six or seven times,” she said. “When I fell, I saw this little lump of dirt move. It was a baby turtle. I named it Lucky and stuck it in my backpack.” Two months later, she said, “I did my first race, a state championship, and out of 27 kids, I took second.” She has competed in some 150 races since then, including a Pikes Peak climb.
“She really came out of the gate swinging,” said Alicia Jordan, Hannah’s mother. “She wasn’t like this as a kid. She was pretty laid back from the outside. Internally, she must have had a lot more going on. She’s got this incredible mental strength. Her suffering score is way off the charts. That has driven her to levels most competitors are not able to comprehend.”
Hannah received an invitation to work out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “I asked, ‘How did you pick her?’” Alicia Jordan said. “They said she’s number one in the nation in three styles: road cycle, time trial, criterium. They want to develop her for international competition. ‘Do you know anything about her?’ They said no. ‘Are you sitting down?’”
Alicia Jordan started researching alternatives to the heavily sugared substances that were prescribed for her daughter’s feeding tube. That led her to discover Kate Farms in Santa Barbara.
Kate Farms was founded in 2011 by Richard Laver after he came up with a homemade, plant-based formula for his tube-fed daughter, Kate, who has cerebral palsy and had been suffering from malnutrition. When Kate began to thrive, Laver started his company, which produces a line of natural liquids based on yellow pea protein.
Hannah Jordan tried a Kate Farms formula at 15, and she said, “Everything started working better. It was like a light-switch moment. We didn’t order enough one time, and I got sick.”
It is fitting that Richard Laver and Hannah Jordan are linked: Two people with strong feelings about the gift of life. On August 2, 1985, the 12-year-old Laver was a passenger on Delta Flight 191 when it crashed at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. He was one of just 27 people who survived; 136 others, including his father, were killed in the crash.
Years later — after failing to make a career in pro tennis (he is a relative of Australian legend Rod Laver) — Laver found a purpose in fighting for his daughter’s life. Kate, 13, and her family now live in Park City, Utah.
Hannah Jordan was offered an internship at Kate Farms, headquartered on Ortega Hill overlooking the Pacific. She is learning things about nutrition and medicine that may lead to a career someday.
“We’re blessed to know her and support her,” said Brett Matthews, the company’s CEO. “Regardless of what’s thrown at you, go through that and live your best life. She’s a living example of that.”
A big challenge will be thrown at her Saturday on Gibraltar Road. At 5′1″ and 100 pounds, Jordan has the lean body of a climber. Her feeding apparatus — approved for competition by the U.S. drug-testing agency — does add extra weight.
Jordan hopes her best life includes a chance to compete in road racing at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. She’s taking it one 100-miler and one very steep hill at a time.
FULL-CYCLE DAY: Gibraltar Road was chosen for the Hillclimb Championship because of its iconic status in bicycle racing. It rises some 2,500 feet in a little over six miles. The Queen Stage of the 2018 Amgen Tour of California finished there. The winner, Egan Bernal of Colombia, is this year’s Tour de France overall champion. In addition to the Gibraltar race, scores of bicycle riders will be circling the city on Saturday during the annual Santa Barbara 100, an event that offers rides from 34 to 100 miles. They will start and finish at Leadbetter Beach. The 100-mile course ranges from the east end of Carpinteria to the UCSB campus and will wind through Hope Ranch in the final miles.
HALL OF FAME: Seven impactful Santa Barbara sports figures from the last four decades comprise the 2019 class of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame. They include two athletes who represented the U.S. in the 2004 Athens Olympics: Dax Holdren (San Marcos High) in beach volleyball and Thalia Munro Ormsby (SBHS) in water polo. Others are Mandy Bible (San Marcos), a volleyball star who went on to play and is now coach at St. Mary’s College; golfer Sara Ovadia (Dos Pueblos), a pro at La Purisima; Tim Trigueiro (SBHS), the 1985 U.S. Open junior tennis champion; Abe Jahadhmy, who coached soccer at San Marcos for 14 years before he became the school’s athletic director; and Greg Tebbe (SBHS), another Dons tennis standout who is a leader in the foundation that is improving the school’s athletic facilities. They were inducted Monday in a ceremony at the La Cumbre Country Club.