CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Hailey Duke is calling it a career, and she is going out on her terms. 

The Sun Valley, Idaho, native skied competitively for the final time Saturday in the women’s slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships, placing fourth.

Duke is hanging up the skis and going to Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, to begin the next chapter of her life. 

“I’m just happy it all came together,” Duke said. “I’m in sunny Maine, if you can believe that. It’s kind of cool. I got to go take my last World Cup race, finish it all on my own terms and I couldn’t ask for more than that. A lot of athletes don’t get to do that so I’m pretty proud of myself.”

Going out on her own terms didn’t look likely just a few years ago. A nagging shoulder injury in 2011 led to surgery. She had her knee scoped just a month later. 

That was only the beginning.

On Feb. 5, 2013, Duke was under the knife again — for brain surgery. She had a tumor in her pituitary gland, and the benign growth was sapping the then-27-year-old skier of energy. 

The tumor was discovered during routine blood work in fall 2012. Tests revealed increased levels of prolactin, an indication that an abnormal growth may be spreading on her pituitary gland. CT scans and an MRI confirmed it. 

Doctors and Duke hoped it could be treated with a steady dose of medication, but surgery proved to be the only option. The tumor was growing at an alarming rate and would eventually reach her carotid artery, which provides oxygenated blood to the head and neck. 

The surgery was a success and Duke immediately felt good enough to return to the sport she loved. Having lost her spot on the U.S. Ski Team a year prior, Duke skied as an independent, responsible for the costs that come with on-snow training, off-snow training, scheduling, management, equipment and fundraising. It was a cost that exceeded $100,000. 

“You’re putting everything out there on the line — dreams, everything out there — for everyone to see and you’re asking for support day in and day out and it doesn’t stop until you decide to stop,” Duke said.  

To help with the costs, Duke launched her own website, haileyduke.com, as a way for people to donate to her cause. It also allowed friends and family to keep up with the Idaho-born skier through her blog. When people donate to her cause, she returns the favor, having partnered with Playhard-Giveback, She Jumps, and Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls. 

“I created a fundraising platform and haileyduke.com was kind of the base of where people could do, find out what I was doing,” Duke said. “I’m kind of becoming the marketing major before I go to school.” 

Her hardwork and determination paid off when she earned her own World Cup spot this season. She placed in the top 11 in the first four slalom events she either qualified for or finished, earning her a spot in the World Championships at Beaver Creek. Her parents, whom Duke said have supported her the most, were in attendance as she placed 28th.

Duke has accomplished what she wanted to accomplish.

As for why she’s choosing now, at the age of 29, to hang up the skis?

“I think another year would kill me, at least independent,” Duke said. “When you’re doing everything, fundraising everything on your own, it gets to be a lot and I’m proud of what I did and now I’m ready to go to school and start anew.

Duke took to the start gate one final time, her skiing career coming to an end at Sugarloaf. With 37 career victories, Duke exits the sport a winner. 

“I just knew I had plenty left in me and it was just up to me when I wanted to go and when I wanted to stop and I went until I had nothing left,” Duke said. “I knew I wouldn’t be happy until that happened.” 


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