By Ben Walker, The Associated Press
With a wave of her bandaged left hand, and boosted by well wishes from Dr. Phil, Chris Evert and even a young woman she once babysat, Hannah Storm returned to a most comfortable setting — talking in front of a TV camera.
The ESPN anchor hosted the Rose Parade telecast Tuesday in her first on-air appearance since sustaining first- and second-degree burns to her face, hands, chest and neck in a propane gas grill accident Dec. 11.
“I was just so happy to be there, so grateful,” she said. “It took a lot out of me, but it went great.”
Storm lost roughly half her hair in the accident outside her home in Connecticut. She wore extensions for the two-hour show on ABC. Storm’s eyebrows and eyelashes also were burned off. When a makeup artist brushed on her first eyebrow, “I wanted to kiss her, it looked so good,” she said.
This was the fifth time Storm served as TV host for the Rose Parade. She said working alongside her former “SportsCenter” co-anchor, “Good Morning America” host Josh Elliott, eased her way.
She said it was to her benefit that she could ad-lib through the show. She’s left-handed, and the burns and an infection make it hard to turn pages on a script or take notes.
“I could be myself today, just talking and reacting to what I saw,” she said. “It was a very familiar place.”
She was warmed, too, by having her three daughters with her in — 15-year-old Hannah, 14-year-old Ellery and 11-year-old Riley. There are, incidentally, four generations of Hannahs in the family, with Storm’s mother and grandmother also sharing that first name.
“It was good that the girls got to see mommy doing what she usually does. Being on TV, being on the set, that brings a sense of normalcy,” she said.
Storm cautioned that her return to the air just three weeks after being injured was far from normal. The fiery explosion left flame marks on her neck, and doctors have told her to keep the most seriously burned areas out of direct sunlight for six months. Dressing and showering are still difficult, too.
“This hair wasn’t real, these eyebrows weren’t real,” she said. “It’s important to remember burns take a long time to heal.”
During the telecast, she thanked everyone from the Trauma and Burn Center at Westchester Medical Center who treated her. Her husband, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks, rearranged his schedule to stay home during her recovery.
Storm has received bunches of calls, texts, emails, tweets and other supportive messages. Tennis star Mardy Fish, ESPN colleagues Dick Vitale and John Kruk, and the Rev. John Jenkins, president of her alma mater Notre Dame, were among those reaching out to the popular broadcaster and producer.
Storm will wait to see when she rejoins “SportsCenter” in Bristol, Conn. She hoped to anchor Sunday, but wants to see how she feels this week.
In the meantime, Storm plans to turn her ordeal into an opportunity to talk about how to safely operate propane gas grills.
Storm was injured when she tried to re-ignite the grill after the flame had gone out. She shut off the gas and when she turned it back on “there was an explosion and this wall of fire came at me in an instant.”
Storm said two people she worked with Tuesday said they’d been burned in similar accidents.
”A lot of people are afraid of grills,” she said. “I think this will be a good chance to talk about safety.”