From local ski hills to the PyeongChang Olympics, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) encompasses all athletes that share a passion for skiing and snowboarding. We explore what makes each skier and rider a champion with stories from the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding and U.S. Freeskiing, next to kids winning a NASTAR medal, landing their first cork 7 or joining a club team. Alongside USSA’s mascot Champ, take a look at how all of these athletes strive to be Best in the World.
In order to fly again, ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson (Park City, UT) has had to relearn how to walk. After multiple knee surgeries and recoveries, Sarah is working hard at physical therapy and in the gym in order to get back on snow for the 2016-17 season and remains steadily focused on one thing: Olympic gold in 2018.
"Knee surgery number 5. Bring it on." - Sarah emits positivity on her social media throughout her recovery.
“Instead of giving up on my dreams, I use my setbacks to my advantage as motivation” said Sarah. “Two really big lessons I’ve learned in coming back from injuries is that the hard work will pay off and it will be worth it.”
Sarah’s journey started at her home of Park City, UT. She learned how to ski at the young age of two, while ski jumping came shortly after when she was inspired by her big brother who was doing an after-school jumping program. Her family has always fueled her love of athletics and her drive to do her best.
Sarah on the slopes at age three.
“The person I turn to when I need motivation is my mom,” said Sarah. “She’s been there every step of the way. She helps to remind me of my past success so I can continue to look forward.”
Sarah’s ski jumping successes began during the 2011-12 season, when women’s ski jumping held its first International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup. Hendrickson dominated that year, winning nine events and the overall title. The following season, she was a close second for the season title behind long-time rival Sara Takanashi of Japan. That same season, Sarah went on to win the women’s event at the 2013 World Championship in Val di Fiemme, Italy—her favorite accomplishment of her career so far.
Sarah is hoisted up by her teammates after winning the 2013 FIS World Championships.
Coming off of winning a World Championship medal, Sarah was on top of the world heading in to the 2014 Olympic preparation period. While training in Oberstdorf, Germany in late August, she flew 148 meters, setting a new personal distance record. But, when she went to land, Sarah crashed and fell, suffering a serious knee injury which required reconstructive surgery for a damaged ligament.
“When I crashed, the first thought that crossed my mind was the possibility that I wouldn't make Sochi,” recalled Sarah. “I was World Champion at the time and at a really good place in my life. My jumping was the best it had ever been. I was devastated that I might not be able to make the Olympics with the injury but I had to try.”
After many physical therapy sessions and lots of hard work, Sarah was named to the team for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Her first time at the Olympics would also be the first time women’s ski jumping was included in the Games. Completing her pre- competition ritual of always tying her left bootlace before her right at the top of the hill before a jump, Sarah was given the honor to jump bib 1 at the Olympics. She made history that day, becoming the first woman to literally ever ski jump in the Olympics.
“Making the Olympic team was beyond special,” said Sarah. “Of course I had to change my goals of winning gold with my knee injury, but to be included still left me speechless. All those hours training and sacrifices finally seemed to be paying off.”
Sarah soars at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
After the Olympics, Sarah continued to do well on the World Cup, finishing eighth overall during the 2014-15 season. But, during summer training in June 2015, she reinjured her knee and opted to take the 2015-16 season off to undergo major reconstructive surgery. Looking forward to this winter season and the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, Sarah has been focused on her strict summer workout routine — cardio, strength, physical therapy and recovery techniques. She’ll continue to do that until she can get back on snow.
USSA communications intern Fiona Morrison sat down with Sarah to explore what she believes makes a champion. Here’s what she had to say:
U.S. SKI TEAM: In your words, what makes a champion? SARAH HENDRICKSON: To be a champion, you have to be willing to put in hard and time consuming work. You have to remain resilient to any road bumps you face as well as maintaining a certain kind of stubbornness. You have to have a mindset that is open to try new things.
U.S. SKI TEAM: Do you remember the first time you felt like a champion? Tell us about that moment. SH: I’d have to say that I’ve never felt like one. I’m still waiting for the time to come because I’m not done accomplishing things. I look forward to the moment when it finally happens.
U.S. SKI TEAM: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring kids who want to be sitting where you are today? SH: My three biggest pieces of advice for others are: first, never stop dreaming. Second, be stubborn when people tell you “no.” And third, don’t follow the typical path.
Now, we want to hear your answers! Tell us what makes you a champion on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and include #WhatMakesAChamp.