On February 9th, the Olympic torch will once again light up our living rooms. We’ll huddle up on the couch next to family and friends. We’ll cheer and gasp and shout words of encouragement we secretly hope will travel through our television screens and inspire our favorite athletes. And this year the White Bear Lake community has reason to cheer a little bit louder.
Sisters Hannah and Marissa Brandt from Vadnais Heights started on the ice as figure skaters. “Marissa was a very good skater, right from the beginning,” says mom Robin Brandt. “Hannah—she was not very graceful. She was kind of a work in progress.” When Hannah was 5 she switched over to hockey and never looked back. The moments and years that followed have paved the way for a double dose of Olympic dreams.
Some of Hannah’s earliest memories involve hockey. “I remember playing outside in the winter time and my toes were so cold I wanted to cry,” she says, laughing. “And if it wasn’t winter, I was in roller blades.” The sport became a big part of Hannah’s life, and after a few more years of figure skating, Marissa switched over to hockey, too.
“My mom had my sister and I in everything together,” Marissa says. “I did figure skating so Hannah did figure skating. Hannah transferred to hockey, and eventually I joined her.”
This trend of togetherness continued even as the Brandt sisters grew older. “We did tournaments together and road trips,” says Marissa. “Being able to spend that time with [my sister] was so special.” The sisters played on teams together almost exclusively until college. This year they will take it to a new level when they both compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics—Hannah on team USA and Marissa on team South Korea, the country where parents Greg and Robin Brandt adopted her from when she was just four months old.
For Hannah, making it to the Olympics was always an end goal, but for Marissa it came as more of a surprise. During finals her senior year at Gustavus Adolphus College, Marissa received a call from Rebecca Baker, the goaltending coach for the South Korean National Team. And before she knew it she was on a plane to South Korea. “It was terrifying,” Marissa says. “I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know the language. But in the end, I’m happy I did it.”
Hannah can trace her Olympic dreams all the way back to Hill-Murray School. “I think my high school coach helped a lot,” she says. “He was always asking what our goals were.” Hannah’s goal was to play for the Minnesota Gophers, and once she checked that off her list, she reached even higher. University of Minnesota women’s hockey head coach Brad Frost had a strong feeling Hannah would one day play in the Olympics. “Her ability is to score big goals in the biggest of moments,” he says. Frost also describes Hannah as “a natural talent.”
In preparation for the games, Hannah has been training full-time in Tampa with the U.S. Olympic team. “We’re on the ice from 8 a.m. until 1 or 2 p.m.,” she says. “It’s a grind every day, but I think that’s what makes it fun.”
Marissa has been back and forth between South Korea and the U.S. The team has also traveled to places including France, Hungary and the East Coast. “It’s a lot of travel, but it’s good for us because there’s not a lot of [women’s] teams in South Korea,” Marissa says. The South Korean team trains daily from noon until 7:30 p.m.
Between long hours, the physical toll and the pressure of representing their home countries, the Brandt sisters are always there for each other, even an ocean apart. “Before every game we always call each other,” says Marissa. “Every game day we get a call. Just having her to talk to is all I need while I’m away.”
When they reunite this month for the Olympics, Marissa is excited to share South Korea with her family. “I’m excited for my family to experience the Korean culture and to show them the places I like to go,” she says. Both sisters are also excited to represent their home countries and share this experience with each other.
Their parents are equally as fired up for the games, but no matter the outcome they will be proud of their daughters. “What I admire is what great girls they are,” says Robin. “They’re role models for young women in both of their countries.”
Although the Brandt sisters won’t be able to hear us through the television screen when they hit the ice in Pyeongchang this month, it’s safe to say we’ll be cheering extra loud anyway.