September 2, 1996 was the end to another McGowan family weekend at Lake Almanor, CA. The weekend was spent on the water and in their cabin, soaking up the final drops of summer. Holly and Tim McGowan, along with their two sons Jack and Nick, were returning to their Truckee home that evening. Splitting into two cars, Holly and five-year-old Jack began the drive back to their every-day lives.
Humble Roots and Ski Boots
Hope McGowan sits down in her tye-dye shirt and athletic shorts, still red-faced from practice. Ski season might be over, but lacrosse is in full-swing.
“I’m the only goalie on the team, so it’s been really long days and intense practices lately,” McGowan said.
Her green eyes and mile-wide smile make it seem like you’ve known Hope for years. She laughs about how ridiculous she looks in her lacrosse uniform, tightening her long blonde ponytail. Lacrosse is the third school sport Hope has played this year.
“It’s days like this that I miss skiing the most,” Hope said. “Too bad there’s no summer ski team at school.”
Hope’s hometown of Truckee, California has the reputation of a top spot for skiers and snowboarders. Hope’s childhood consisted of keeping up with her brothers and spending time in skis.
“I was always gone in middle school because I was travelling for skiing,” Hope said. “Sometimes I feel more comfortable in skis than I do on foot.”
Hope and her family travelled to places like Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire and Minnesota for her ski meets. At 13 years old, Hope was the 35th-best freestyle skier in the world.
“Competing in the Junior Olympics are some of my favorite memories,” Hope said. “I worked really hard competitively to keep up with my brothers.”
Hope gestures at a scar on her left eye from a time her brother Nick dropped a piece of wood on her face.
“We were trying to build a treehouse,” Hope said. “Clearly it didn’t go very well.”
Tim McGowan, Hope’s father and Tahoe business owner, was a big ski influence during her childhood. Tim fell in love with skiing during his time at Colorado State University. He attended graduate school at Santa Clara University and frequented Squaw Valley resort during his time there. After marrying his wife Holly, they moved to the Incline Village/Truckee area.
“My dad has always been a successful snow chaser,” Hope said.
Tim now owns a landscaping company based out of Tahoe.
“He’s the dude I love the most in this world,” Hope said. “He’s always been driven despite all the ailments in my family.”
That drive home from Lake Almanor was one that changed the path of their lives forever. Hitting a tree head-on, Holly was sent through the front windshield, never to walk again. She broke 80 percent of the bones on the right side of her body. She spent the next six months of her life in a hospital. During those six months, she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Hope.
“I don’t know how we did it,” Holly said, remembering raising three young children while in a wheelchair. “Somehow, by the grace of God we did it.”
Wheeling herself through the rooms of their home, Holly remembers the months she spent in the hospital after her accident.
“Our family just cycled through, there was usually always someone visiting,” Holly said. “When Hope was born, there were probably 20 people in the room cheering for her.”
After finally returning from the hospital, Holly was nervous about having to raise a newborn without being able to use her legs.
“I was scared to death to come home, especially because I was having to basically re-learn everything I’ve ever known,” Holly said. “How do you explain to your newborn daughter that mommy can’t pick you up because she doesn’t have the strength to?”
As if it was a natural instinct, Hope learned how to pull herself up at a young age so her mom could hold her on her lap.
“We would just wheel around the house with her on my lap,” Holly said. “It was hilarious.”
“I guess I just never really knew anything other than that kind of life,” Hope said. “It’s pretty cool having the most extraordinary mom in the world.”
Holly and her family learned how to adapt to their new lifestyle thanks to the support of family and community.
“So many people made it easy for us to keep going with our lives,” Holly said.
Hope and her brothers continued to pursue their athletics throughout childhood and into their young adult lives. Holly laughs as she remembers Hope as a young athlete.
“She was already outshining her brothers at a young age, you can imagine how thrilled they were about that,” Holly said.
“I guess it’s just something about the drive of competition that keeps me going,” Hope said. “Diabetes doesn’t really fit my agenda.
Hope was 10 years old when her life changed forever. Coming down with a common cold, Hope expected to recover from it just like any other cold. She started drinking excessive amounts of water and even began to wet the bed. Holly instinctively knew something was very wrong, so they went to the hospital. The doctor looked at her that day and told her that she had Type 1 Brittle Diabetes.
“I remember looking at the doctor and thinking, ‘this can’t be real,'” Holly said.
Hope spent the next three days in the hospital. During those three days, she had to come to terms with her new disease.
“When people hear I have diabetes, they kind of brush it off and don’t think much of it,” Hope said. “It’s not just some little thing. It’s a chronic disease that will literally keep me up at night.”
When initially diagnosed, Hope was told to limit herself to about 30 or 45 minutes of activity a day. This didn’t fit into her athletic agenda.
“Hope had too many things going on in her life to let diabetes stop her,” Holly said.
Hope had to learn methods of controlling her blood sugar and making sure it didn’t get too low.
“When your blood sugar is low, it’s like your blood turns into syrup,” Holly said.
“I’ve passed out a few times at school and sometimes I have to sit out a few runs at ski practice,” Hope said. “It sucks.”
Despite her new illness, Hope still went on to aggressively compete throughout middle school and into high school. Attending Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, she maintained the position as the top female skier on her team. She attended state all four years.
Hunter Pitts, a fellow high school senior and Bishop Manogue ski team member, also suffers from type 1 diabetes. Together, Hope and Hunter were the co-captains of their team.
“I’ve known Hope for a long time and she never ceases to amaze me,” Hunter said. “She was always so much fun to have on the team.”
“Before I was diagnosed, I would start a race telling myself I wanted to be the best and the fastest,” Hope said. “Now, I’m just thinking ‘please don’t fall and just make it to the bottom.'”
Hope’s team placed third in the state, while placing first all-state academic team. Hope will be attending her father’s alma mater Santa Clara after graduation.
“It’s going to be weird being away from the snow, but I’ll still be there.
In the classroom, Hope serves as a student leader and role model for many of her peers.
“Hope has been in my leadership class for four years, and is a truly irreplaceable member of my team,” said Jimmy Gleich, leadership teacher at Bishop Manogue. “You would never know she has anything wrong with her.”
Aside from the ski team, Hope was also a member of the cross country and lacrosse team. Hope’s experience with cross country was one of the hardest experiences of her life.
“I was just waiting for her to come to me and say, ‘mom, I’m quitting cross country,'” Holly said.
“I don’t know why I did cross country, but it was really tough,” Hope said.
Hope would struggle through practices and races. A diabetic isn’t typically a strong candidate for long-distance running.
“She could go out there and run five miles without breaking a sweat,” Holly said. “But as soon as she was put in a race her blood sugar would just plummet.”
The adrenaline of the races combined with her blood sugar issues caused Hope to only finish one race during her entire season.
“When she finished that one race, her entire team came together and celebrated that victory,” Holly said. “It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.”
“I always hated having to stop in the middle of a race, but it was worth it for that one time I crossed the finish line,” Hope said.
Whether it be on the mountain or in a classroom, Hope continues to show excellence in every aspect of her life.
“Sometimes, I look and her and think I truly have the most amazing daughter on the planet,” Holly said.
“I owe a lot of who I am to my mother,” Hope said. “She really changed my life for the better. I don’t know how she can have a smile on her face every day but she does.”
Hope won’t be letting the distance stop her from skiing. She is already looking forward to coming home on breaks from college and skiing with her family.
“I can’t help but worry about her going to college,” Holly said. “Her condition is so unpredictable that it’s scary for us as a family.”
Hope plans on studying a form of science in hopes of one day being a doctor.
“After having a disease like diabetes, I feel like it’s my job to give back to people who also suffer from illnesses,” Hope said. “I just wish it didn’t take so much studying.”
Wherever life takes this young athlete, she will certainly succeed and excel. It’s what she does best.
“That girl had every odd in the world against her,” Holly said. “It’s pretty astounding that she still came out an exceptional human being.”