Sitting on Hannah Storm’s desk is a quote by renowned South African leader Nelson Mandela: And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
The words are a mantra to the ESPN anchor and Connecticut resident, who firmly believes that no one should ever focus on his or her limitations or let dreams go unfulfilled. Storm embodies the very essence of the quote.
“You have to give yourself permission to dream big and not be afraid to put yourself out there on a limb, not be afraid to try new things and not apologize for wanting to be all that you can. I think that’s really important. Let your talent shine,” she says.
Putting herself out on a limb is something Storm has done her entire life, and she doesn’t shy away from it.
Growing up, she was perpetually the “new kid” at a variety of schools due to her father’s job as a sports executive.
With each new franchise that her father became involved with, the family moved.By the time she reached high school, she had lived in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Indianapolis, among other cities.
And while the continuous moving was undeniably difficult, it was compounded by the fact that she was born with a port wine stain over her eyelid, extending to below her left eye.
Beginning when she was just in fifth grade, Storm underwent a series of treatments for the birthmark, none of which removed it and almost all of which were significantly painful.
By the time she was in college, she resolved to be done with the process of undergoing the various procedures, which included excision surgeries, a flesh-colored tattoo and a laser technique that left third-degree burns under her eye.
However, she continued to be plagued by lingering self-consciousness, which was nearly as painful but in a different way.
Growing up, she feared swimming with boys because she worried that her concealer would wash off in the water. In college, she wore dark eyeliner, hoping it would distract people from looking at her birthmark. And she fielded endless insensitive comments from people who asked things like, “Who hit you?” or “What happened to your face?”
But while the experiences were undoubtedly hard ones, they also served to create a deep resolve and determined ambition in Storm, who realized that she could either be paralyzed by her insecurities or surmount them.
With a fierce tenacity, she chose the latter.
“I knew that the only way to get anything done, the only way to make friends, the only way to move to a new city and establish myself, go to a new school, make that transition, try to get good grades, try out for the play and not worry about this mark on my face … the only way to do all that was to work as hard as I could and be as tenacious as I could.”
Over time, she found her niche in theater – in part, she said, because the stage makeup “transformed her,” but mostly because she enjoyed performing.
Eventually, she parlayed a longtime love of sports, developed after attending endless games with her father, and her love of performing into a career as a sports television journalist.
“I never considered letting that birthmark hold me back from doing a job in the public eye,” she said. Instead, there were other roadblocks.
At the time, the profession was heavily, if not entirely, male-dominated and, for the most part, women were only welcomed if they were standing on the sidelines with pom-poms. Once again, she had to rely on her reservoir of strength and determination to face a considerable amount of adversity.
“I literally sent out hundreds of résumés and got hundreds of rejections. I couldn’t get an agent. I had people say, ‘I’ll hire a woman over my dead body,’ or ‘My audience won’t accept a woman,’ or ‘My sports director won’t work with a woman.’ ”
But instead of letting the rejection dissuade her, she embraced the words of her father, who said, “You can get hundreds of ‘nos,’ but you really only need one ‘yes.’”
She continued her steady pursuit until, eventually, after responding to a want ad in the paper, she got a job.
It wasn’t in sports and it wasn’t on television, but it was a start.
She was hired to work as a disc jockey at radio station KNCN-FM in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Once Storm had the proverbial foot in the door, it was only a matter of months before she moved on to KSRR-FM in Houston, where she served as the station’s drive-time sports anchor.
Though she was finally working in her chosen field, Hannah Storm wanted much more.
At 21, she was certain that she’d one day host the Olympic Games, host a national morning show, and do so much more with her life.
With single-minded focus and ambition, she pursued that dream until her dogged efforts and blatant refusal to be denied began to pay dividends.
By 1989, Storm had become the first female host of the CNN program Sports Tonight.
Photo: Joe Faraoni | ESPN
From there, her rise was nothing short of meteoric.
She worked for NBC Sports, where she hosted not one, but four Olympic Games. And she served as the first woman in American television history to be the solo host of NBC’s Major League Baseball coverage, which included three World Series.
In 2002, Storm was named as host of CBS’s morning news program, The Early Show.
For more than five years, she covered news events that included the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and two presidential campaigns. She interviewed George and Laura Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Jennifer Aniston and an endless array of newsmakers and celebrities.
It was, for all intents and purposes, the attainment of all of her dreams and desires.
But Storm admits that with each victory, there was also a measure of bittersweet regret.
After 10 years at NBC, she suddenly found herself out of work.
“I had to pick it up and find another job, and I found another job at CBS doing what I had always wanted to do. [But] that didn’t fall in my lap. I went out and got that.”
And when she was effectively let go from her position at CBS, she relied once more on her faith that she could do anything, and with that, she decided to pursue a position as a sports and newscaster at ESPN, a place she knew would be a good fit for her.
Photo: DGA Productions
She’s been at the network in Bristol since 2008, and loves the performance aspect of her job along with the challenge of dealing with breaking news and storylines as they unfold.
Storm credits her longevity and high-profile career to her unwavering work ethic and mindset.
“It feels good because it hammers home the belief that you can do anything if you work hard enough and put your mind to it.”
That mindset explains why Storm hasn’t slowed down much or even considered coasting. There’s far too much she’d still like to accomplish in her life.
Two years ago, she started her own company, Brainstormin Productions, and produced the critically acclaimed movie, Unmatched, which chronicles the rivalry between tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
But far more important, she feels, is her recent creation of the Hannah Storm Foundation, which raises awareness and provides treatment for children with debilitating and disfiguring birthmarks.
While Storm has had many years to reconcile her feelings about her own birthmark, she still feels some of the residual self-consciousness that defined her younger years.
“There are times when my own children, however sweetly, still ask me to wear makeup at the bus stop. At work, after cleaning my face following my shift at ESPN, I still have to fight the urge not to put on sunglasses, indoors.
“Oftentimes, I wonder if those I encounter on my way out the door notice my birthmark or how I look when not wearing makeup. For the most part, others are too busy to notice or care; but the thoughts are always there, tugging at the corners of your mind.”
Photo: Heidi Gutman
And because she knows firsthand how it feels, she wants to do something significant to help other people affected by the same affliction.
The foundation recently funded its first surgery for a very young patient who traveled from China to receive treatment.
The experience, according to Storm, was by far the pinnacle of what she’s accomplished in her life.
“It was such a dream, I just couldn’t believe that it was actually happening, that we were there at the hospital while this little boy from half a world away was being operated on by the best surgeon in the world – and that my foundation made it happen. That was just one of those moments where you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, I am so happy and proud right now.’ ”
But for her, it’s just the beginning.
“I feel like there’s so much more to accomplish. There are many more people I want to touch with the birthmark issue. I want to change a lot more insurance codes, I want to fund more surgeries, I want to reach out to more people around the world and get the word out about what these birthmarks are, and where the care is. I want the general public to understand what they are looking at when they are looking at one of these.”
Considering Storm’s track record, it shouldn’t be long before she achieves what she’s set out to do.
Photo: DGA Productions
In the meantime, she continues to emphasize the importance of being true to oneself, no matter what you perceive as your limitations.
“The underpinning message of my foundation is that regardless of what the outside world sees or values, you are who you are. And that essence of who you are… that’s got to be celebrated and you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to believe in it. You’re the only person who can. You’ve got to believe inside that you are special.”