Athletes Giving Back: Sarah Hendrickson
Leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, people gave the U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping Team more attention than it had ever enjoyed in the past.
The reason was clear — 2014 was the first time women were allowed to compete at the Olympic Games. The narrative centered around three Park City athletes — Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson.
That trio became the first American women to ski jump on the world’s ultimate stage and, though they didn’t win any medals, they became a part of history.
Understandably, the levels of public interest dropped after the Sochi Games, Hendrickson said.
"We got a lot of attention for our team leading up to Sochi because of our story, which was awesome," she said. "But then there was kind of a drop-off, which we totally expected."
That drop in attention created a need to introduce more girls to the sport in order to continue building the U.S. team.
"We decided we had to start filtering in some new girls," Hendrickson said. "We needed a new program, so my coach, Alan Alborn, came up with the Fly Girls program and selected some athletes. I think there were eight the first year and 12 this past year. They come out [to Park City] in the summer and train with Lindsey Van, who was the head coach this past year. Alan helps out, too."
Hendrickson also helped coach the Fly Girls this summer despite a strained ACL that kept her from jumping (she’s since had ACL surgery and is working her way back to competitive jumping). She said the Fly Girls program is about more than just jumping, though.
"I’d go up and try to coach and do some yoga sessions with them and go to dinner with them," she said. "All the girls are super awesome and it’s really fun. I want to get more involved — as much as I can — and I wish I could have jumped with them this summer. I’m looking forward to that next summer."
The Fly Girls program is open to girls ages 13-16. Hendrickson, who began her ski-jumping career at a young age, said she would have loved to be a Fly Girl.
"It’s awesome," she said. "I wish I had a program like that when I was younger. All the girls seem to have a blast just hanging out. It’s definitely training-focused, but they have a lot of fun and experience ski jumping for those six weeks."
For Hendrickson, who just turned 21 in August, working with the Fly Girls is about more than just mentoring young athletes. She hopes a few girls in the program will eventually be her U.S. teammates.
"Lindsey [Van] coached me when I was like 10 or something and she’s 10 years older than me," she said. "We’re still, like, the best of friends. I’d love to have those girls come up and walk in the Opening Ceremonies with them and go to World Cups with them — it would be a really cool bonding experience."
Hendrickson added that she hopes the Fly Girls program will help keep young women participating in the sport.
"It’s hard for girls in the States to stay in the sport of ski jumping because it’s not a college sport and there’s low funding," she said. "But my outlook is if you want to get to the Olympics, get into ski jumping. It’s still hard, but it’s not as competitive as ski racing and now freestyle skiing where there are like 150 10-year-olds out of Park City who are trying to make the slopestyle team. It’s a little bit more attainable."
Though Hendrickson said the Fly Girls program doesn’t need to get much bigger in terms of participants, she said there’s still work to be done building a ski-jumping pipeline to the U.S. National Team.
"Eventually, I’d like to see a step below the Fly Girls program, something that the whole nation and clubs around the country can shoot for," she said. "We have so many different clubs — a bunch in the Midwest, the East Coast, up in Alaska — that when we all come together for nationals, a bunch of people are not really on the same page. [Alan]’s definitely started managing that and leveling everything out.
"That’s really important for the coaches. We don’t have a lot of coaches — a lot of people are just volunteers. If we had a training program, then when everybody comes for nationals, we can say, ‘This is what we’d like to see from the kids and they can be doing these types of programs at home.’"
To learn more about the Fly Girls program, or to apply to be in the 2016 program, visit http://www.wsjusa.com/fly-girls .
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