espnW: Sarah Hendrickson
After 13 weeks of hard training, I am finally seeing the results for which I’ve worked so hard.
It hasn’t been easy waking up every day and going to the gym for at least six hours. I’ve had to start from scratch in many ways after a fall in August tore several ligaments in my knee. The rehab has been tough, and though my actual workouts have been more like four or five hours, these have still been long days.
I often see other athletes in the morning, and then they go ski and come back and say, “Wow, Sarah, you’re still here?” I guess that sums up just how much time I’m spending at the Center of Excellence, the U.S. Ski Team’s training facility.
It all seems to be paying off, though. At my 12-week post-operation check, my doctor was very happy with how my knee and leg looked. He informed me that my MCL was now healed but my meniscus still had another month until the stitches were expected to “heal.”
He then reminded me that technically an ACL, the other ligament damaged in my accident, takes a full six months to repair. Obviously, we don’t have that time frame with the Olympics in February, but luckily, I don’t need to be “fully healed” to get back out there.
But the best thing he said was this: “There is absolutely nothing that will stop you from jumping in January.” He could tell I have worked my butt off to get back to my sport. I cannot put into words how much confidence this gave me, and it has motivated me to work harder to reach my goal.
I also tested my strength on the force platform, which helps my medical team assess the progress I’ve made. I knew I felt strong, but sometimes that doesn’t transfer into the correct numbers with testing. But once again, the hard work has paid off: I was back to 93 percent of my strongest numbers (which were logged this summer before I fell and was injured).
It was almost as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders as I heard these results. Most people aren’t this strong until about six months out of surgery, and I am still on track for my goal – to compete in Sochi.
After this appointment, I was cleared to run on what’s called an AlterG treadmill -- it takes some of the body weight off your lower extremities, helping to reduce the impact. Thanks to my ultramarathoning mom, Nancy, I have grown a small passion for running and it felt glorious to do it again. I have absolutely no pain, which is also a great sign of healing.
There were days that I wanted to give up and just walk away. But those are now behind me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and every minute of that hard work that helped me get there.
Although I have had great success up until this point, I still have one more month of hard gym training. I don’t qualify for the Olympics with strength numbers, of course -- it’s the distance I jump on the hill. So I can’t wait to be back jumping. If all goes well, I’ll be flying out there in early to mid-January!
Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 world champion, is a member of the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team and Women’s Ski Jumping USA.
After an Aug. 21 ski jumping injury in which I tore several ligaments in my knee, I’m excited to say that I am now eight weeks out of surgery and feeling great. The first six weeks of rehab were mellow, yet vital for the initial healing from the surgery. Even though I was in the gym every day, the exercises were simple. Now that I’m in the next phase, we are focusing on building strength and reaching full range of motion in my leg.
After my accident, I was isolated from interviews and I refrained from providing details about my future in terms of the Sochi Games, and of getting back on snow in general. After talking to my doctor, physical therapists and other parts of my support team, I made the decision to speak out about my goal: to make it back in time to compete in February at the Olympics.
When I participated in the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit earlier in October, it was the first time I shared my goal in public. It was crazy to have these words come from my mouth when I was being pushed around in a wheelchair. But I have talked with the professionals and they tell me that it is possible.
It’s hard for me not to think about what it would be like now if I was 100 percent healthy. It’s especially difficult when I imagine myself in Europe, training with the rest of the team and working to maintain a high level of jumping -- instead of learning how to walk again. But things aren’t that way, so I have to move on.
My goal of competing in Sochi is the reason I am getting out of bed in the morning and going to the gym for six hours a day. It’s the reason I still have a smile on my face and it’s the reason I will put my head down and fight through anything thrown at me in the next four months. I have dreamed of walking into the opening ceremonies representing Team USA way too many times to give up now.
Some people may think I am crazy, and that biologically this recovery is impossible by February. You know what I tell them? “Impossible” is not in my dictionary. Those who don’t believe in me push me even harder to prove them wrong.
My personal goal is that on Jan. 19 when the Olympic team is named, I’m able to look back at the past five months and can honestly tell myself I gave every ounce of effort I could. The amount of hours I am about to spend in the gym and the tough barriers ahead will not be easy, but I have to give it my all. If I give it everything I have, that is the best I can do, and no one can take that away from me.
It’s amazing that in the past two years I have tried to avoid thinking about the Games in fear of the immense pressure that comes with Olympic competition. However, these days, it’s the first thought that runs through my head in the morning and my last thought at night.
Head down, all out, it’s time to live my dreams.
For a summer blog, I could have easily written about training routines, travel schedules and the basics of ski jumping. Sure, that stuff is informative -- even a little repetitive. But this time, I decided to add a little twist. I'm going to share some of the (sometimes bewildering) misconceptions of ski jumping.
Ski jumping isn't exactly popular in the United States. Many people get the basics of our sport wrong -- very wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I could probably write a 10-page essay about it. Hopefully, the following will clear up some of the confusions.
Myth: Ski jumpers train in the summer by jumping into a swimming pool.
Fact: Not one second of a training session or practice involves a pool and/or body of water. In the summer, we happily land on fake grass, and in the winter, it's snow.
This is undoubtedly the No. 1 most-asked question by tourists, fans and members of the media. This has even been brought up while sitting at the top of the ski jump hill (no water in sight) and a tourist asks, "So how do you land in a pool from here?" or "Wait, did you just land in the pool?"
The good thing about these exchanges is that people are genuinely interested in learning more about what we do, and they are typically nice folks. My mom always taught me to be friendly and treat others with respect. However, there is a part of me that sometimes would like to shout rather loudly, "No pool here! You just watched me land on that fake green grass WITHOUT a pool!"
Of course, I would never say that, and I do appreciate the curiosity -- but really, a pool? Don't get me wrong, pools are great, and I wish we could indulge in cooling off in a body of water after summer jumping in 90-degree days wearing spongy jumpsuits. But it is simply not a part of ski jumping.
So, why the pool confusion? Our friends and fellow Olympic hopefuls who are aerialists ski off a sharp ramp and do flips into a pool during the summer training months. Their training facility happens to be a couple hundred yards from us, so there you have it.
Myth: The take-off of a ski jump has a curved-up "lip."
Fact: Not true. The take-off simply hangs at a negative 10-degree angle. Therefore, the option of doing back-flips off a ski jump is nearly impossible by the laws of physics. In order to jump the distances we reach on the ski jump (90-plus meters), you have to use the speed and, well, jump off the take-off -- otherwise, you will go short. Really short.
Myth: Ski jumpers fly up to 30 feet above the ground.
Fact: We're actually much lower to the ground. The average height above the ground during a jump rages from 10-15 feet and follows the contour of the hill, thus the impact of up-landing on a slanted surface is not as intense as one might think. The part of our sport that makes it "extreme" is the high speeds and long distances, not so much the height. We ski down the in-run at 60 mph and jump over a football field in length.
Over the 12 years I have ski jumped, these questions are asked daily by the general public. While sometimes frustrating, I do love informing people who are interested about the sport. If I can have a small part in getting just one more person to love watching what we do, then that's pretty awesome.
Hopefully, this info has cleared up some of the myths about Nordic ski jumping.Sarah Hendrickson, 19, is a member of the Visa Women's Ski Jumping Team and represents the United States on the World Cup circuit. She was the first World Cup series women's ski jumping champion in 2012 and won the world championships in 2013. She finished the 2013 World Cup season ranked second in the world.
Last season was, in a word, terrific: I fulfilled one of my dreams by becoming the world ski jumping champion in March. After the high of worlds, I headed back to Park City, Utah, where I live, for a little time off. Little did I know, this "time off" would not be as relaxing as I had thought.
In years past, the media interest in ski jumping has been quite low. Now, thankfully, this has changed. This past spring was an insane time, filled with interviews, photo shoots, appearances and other media-related events.
I am sponsored by Red Bull and Kellogg’s, so many of the media appearances have involved those two companies. One of the highlights was going to the Red Bull headquarters in Salzburg, Austria, where I got to fly a Red Bull plane.
Now this was no normal plane, mind you: It did spins, rolls and (ahem) even backflips. I'm a thrill seeker, so I loved the experience. Though I think I’ll stick to flying upright most of the time, it was very fun. I also did a two-day shoot with Kellogg's that included a commercial. It's slightly weird having people film you while you chew Frosted Flakes, but hey, I work with Tony the Tiger now, so I can't complain!
At the end of April, I experienced one of the craziest media days of my life. I was flown to Hollywood to participate in the U.S. Olympic Committee and NBC promotional day for the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Not only was the day action-packed with interviews from all of the big guys -- Universal Sports, E!, Access Hollywood, and many more -- but it really hit me right then that I have the potential to go to the Olympics! How amazing is that?
Throughout the day, people were slapping makeup on me left and right, fixing my frizzy hair and asking me the never-ending list of common questions. One thing that struck me as surreal was the apparel they were giving me to wear in some of the shoots. Right on the front it read, “United States Olympic Team.”
Now, I haven’t officially made the team, but I was honestly made speechless by the fact that I was wearing the uniform for the Olympic athletes. My entire childhood was filled with watching athletes train and compete at the Olympics, and I can’t believe I am so close to being a part of that exclusive group. It's still a dream, not reality yet, but on that media day my dream felt like it was getting really close.
Now we're in Park City for summer training, getting back into the swing of things for the Sochi season. But all the excitement hasn't quite died down yet: On Saturday I got to meet the one-and-only Taylor Swift at her concert in Salt Lake City. I know and love all of her songs, so getting to her give her a hug was...well, let's say my life is pretty much complete!
Sarah Hendrickson, 18, is a member of the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team and represents the United States on the World Cup circuit. She was the first women’s ski jumping World Cup series champion in 2012, and won the world championships in 2013. She finished the 2012/13 World Cup season ranked second in the world.