2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Spotlight: Sarah Hendrickson
November 22, 2013
When ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson was laying on the ground following her crash during a training jump in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Aug. 21, she saw her Olympic dreams flash before her eyes.
Fresh off a 2013 World Championships victory, the 19-year-old jumper was heralded as a gold medal favorite for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, along with Sara Takanashi of Japan.
Hendrickson, who is no stranger to knee injuries (she had an injury before the 2013 season that kept her out for six months), immediately feared the worst.
"When I first hurt it, I was laying in the outrun and looked up at the sky and realized that it could destroy my dream," she said.
The news was indeed bad – a torn ACL that would require surgery. But, with the bad news came a silver lining.
"I sort of gathered my thoughts and talked to some doctors," she said. "The doctor I decided to go with was the one who did [surgery] on my other knee. He looked at me and told me that it was possible. If everything goes to plan and I work my butt off, I can be there [in Sochi] and I can do it."
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She said her rehab has been difficult. But, she’s already walking without a brace, according to various reports. She’ll keep rehabbing with her eyes on the prize – competing in the Olympics.
"That’s what’s getting me up in the morning," she said. "There are speed bumps and road blocks and injuries – anything can happen, really. But that’s my goal at this point. That’s why I go to [physical therapy] for six hours a day."
For the reigning world champ, the reality is there are several Olympic Games still in play for the rest of her career – 2018 in South Korea, the 2022 Games, even the 2026 Games and beyond. She admits finding the right balance between pushing herself this year and positioning herself for future dominance has been difficult, especially since the 2014 Olympics will be the first time women are allowed to compete in ski jumping.
"That’s the big thing," she said. "We’re basically the sport of the Olympics just because it’s a new sport. It’s equality and it’s a big deal. So it’s hard to be like, ‘Well, I can just go to another Olympics and wait it out."
But if that’s what has to happen, Hendrickson has made her peace with it.
"I definitely will assess [the injury] in January when the time comes to jump," she said. "If I don’t feel ready, I have to listen to my body – I want to be around ski jumping for a long time. And, obviously, if my doctors tell me I’m not ready, I have to listen to them. It’s going to be hard and I’m going to want to push the limits, but that’s what makes an athlete an athlete."
She’ll keep working hard to keep the hope of walking with Team USA at the Opening Ceremonies alive, something she’s dreamed about since beginning her ski jumping career at the same time the 2002 Olympics were playing out in her home town of Park City.
"My brother [Nick Hendrickson] did it through an after-school program and I got sick of watching him do it for two years," she said. "So I decided to try it. It was 2002 and the Olympics were in town and I remember watching the men ski jump – watching them fly over 100 meters in the air. I thought it was pretty amazing and I wanted to try it."
Now that women are no longer excluded from Olympic competition in the sport she loves, thanks to the efforts of her U.S. Ski Team and Women’s Ski Jumping USA teammates Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome, among others, Hendrickson is aching for the chance to showcase her world-championship talent in front of the world.
"I honestly dream about that every day – when I wake up, when I go to bed," she said. "I just have to keep that positive vibe that I’m still going to be there. I want to represent Team USA more than anything in the world."
Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will highlight an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for a story about halfpipe skier Ashley Battersby.