Parkite Sarah Hendrickson is both mentally and physically ready for the upcoming season
After Sarah Hendrickson flew through the air for the last time in Pyeongchang in 2018, she contemplated retirement.
Arguably the greatest women’s ski jumper to ever grace the slopes was strongly considering hanging up her skis. She would no longer have to worry about her knee injuries, she could focus on going back to school to study medicine and more than anything, she could make up for the lost time with family and friends.
But FIS’ decision, partly made with her feedback, to add a series of long jumps to the upcoming women’s ski jumping winter calendar changed everything for her.
“I love jumping large hills quite a bit more than small hills, and that’s partly why I’m pushing the sport of ski jumping,” Hendrickson, 25, said. “More of these long jumps on the World Cup circuit are for sure good for the continued progress that we’ve been working so hard for.”
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Hendrickson, who hails from Park City, started skiing as a 2-year-old with her parents and brother and found ski jumping when she was 7, electing to try it after witnessing her brother repeatedly fly through the air.
“I learned to ski at a very young because my parents loved to ski, so it became very natural because I was also very active growing up,” Hendrickson said. “My brother started it ski jump a little bit and I kind of got sick of watching him, so I decided to try it. … With the 2002 Olympics in Park City, I had a lot of exposure to the high level athletes that came to town and really saw how cool of a community it was.”
That eventually led her down a path that would include two Olympics – the first of which where she became the first woman to compete in ski jumping – winning the inaugural World Cup ski jumping circuit championship in 2012, three U.S. national championships and the 2013 World Champion. But six knee surgeries during that time had Hendrickson questioning her future in the sport, eventually forcing her to decide what would come next in her life.
“I took some time for myself because it could be my last season. … Or it could be the start of a another Olympic cycle,” Hendrickson said. “I really have no idea but I need to enjoy it to make the best possible outcomes for me.”
In order for Hendrickson to fully return to the sport, she knew it would have to be about more than the long jumps; she would have to find herself and the love of ski jumping again. So she took the previous winter off to get her mind and body right, a decision she says that was one of the best she’s ever made in her life.
“I took this last winter off to find my place in life, I guess. … I did some school, I did some alpine skiing, I just kind of went back to activates that I knew would bring me back to being an athlete and someone I’ve always been,” Hendrickson said. “It really helped me in the end. … I honestly didn’t know if I would come back this year but I took some time for myself and now I just want to carry that through the winter.”
Part of getting her mind in the right place for the comeback was a camp Hendrickson volunteered at this July.
The “fly girls, fly guys” type of camp, according to Hendrickson, consisted of 17 athletes between the ages of 13-16 throughout the country who were invited them for a two-week session in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, followed by another two-week session in Park City. “I took part in the camp as not only a female coach but the ski jumping specific coach to help the kids. … The age group was perfect because that’s about the same age when ski jumping became a passion for me,” Hendrickson said. “I really like that age because I feel like it can be super influential to have high level or experienced coaches at that time of their training. … I’ve done a lot of coaching with younger kids and I didn’t care for that as much, but this age group is really rewarding.”
Another part of finding her place has been in representing women’s ski jumping at FIS. She was first elected to the role in 2017, helping spread the sport throughout the world.
Throughout her first term, which lasted two years, Hendrickson was able to help expand the sport with the addition of larger hill events, a move by FIS that has helped keep her competitive career going. But after winning re-election as the representative in 2019, Hendrickson is continuing her fight to expand the sport.
“I would say I’ve been pushing women’s ski jumping more recently in the past couple of years because of my representation with FIS,” Hendrickson said. “But really, women’s ski jumping is pushing itself in the way that we have more countries and more participants taking place because we’ve been allowed to have more competitions. … And I’m really proud to be able to represent the sport of women’s ski jumping.”
After not competing since her 36th place finish at the World Cup in Oberstdorf, Germany in March of 2018, Hendrickson finally feels ready again.
With the running of the camps, her representation with FIS to expand the sport and just taking some time off to get mentally and physically healthy, she says she’s in a “great spot” and ready for whatever comes next in her life.
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“Its not much considering the whole season was lost, but the fact that the girls did get a chance to play at the end for something was pretty special.”