Ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson considers postponing retirement
August 2, 2018
PARK CITY, Utah — Rest is important to ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, as it is to any athlete. But she says the idea of rest is more than a necessity, it's something she relishes; part of her brand, one might say.
But this season, it's taking on a new meaning.
Midway through last winter, over which Hendrickson finished 19th at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, she was approached by Sleep Number, a manufacturer of luxury mattresses.
"They've been a great partner," she said of her sponsor at the USA Nordic Summer Soiree at Jeremy Ranch Country Club. "I sleep a lot — like, 9 to 10 hours every night."
The partnership's resulting commercials feature Hendrickson practicing ski jumps, doing agility and strength drills, talking about the importance of rest, and cozying up in bed.
Hendrickson also is taking a larger scale rest, taking summer and fall off before making a decision on whether to jump in the winter, which is something of a change of heart for the 24-year-old.
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In the run-up to the 2018 Winter Games, she said she would likely retire at the end of the season to study medicine. But the International Ski Federation added a series of large hill jumps to the women's ski jumping calendar — a competitive opportunity Hendrickson is finding hard to pass on.
"That's what's keeping me in the loop and motivated to come back," she said of the nine large hill events. "So (women's large hill competitions) won't be an Olympic event for 2022, but (inclusion in) more and more World Cups is definitely good for the female progression of the sport."
The progression of women's ski jumping is another thing she is passionate about. Hendrickson won the first ever women's World Cup season, was one of the athletes that pushed for the inclusion of women's ski jumping as an Olympic sport and was the first woman to jump once the sport was approved by the International Olympic Committee for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Many of the women she competed alongside in Russia have since retired, including Abby Ringquist, who competed at Pyeongchang and retired after the Olympics. Ringquist, 29, now teaches ski jumping at the Utah Olympic Park and is finishing a degree in fine art from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Hendrickson also is one of a very small group who represent women in the sport at FIS meetings — a position she has been using to help promote women's participation in large hill competitions.
The inclusion of large hill events on the schedule is "huge" for the state of women in ski jumping, Hendrickson said.
"Because when there are large hills on the schedules, it allows the coaches to train on a large hill, where if it's just a small hill on the schedule, they will just have us jump small hills. So it's way bigger than just the events, it's pushing the girls to go more on the bigger hills and it's going to continue to grow for the following years."
Hendrickson wants to be around the sport to witness its evolution, but first she is embracing her time off.
Over the past few months, she's traveled to Florida to visit friends and accepted a speaking engagement for a nonprofit — both things she typically would have said no to because of her schedule.
"Little things that in the past eight years, I would tell them I would consider it, but it wouldn't really fit into the plan, so yeah, it's just kind of liberating," she said of her break.
Hendrickson will also use her newfound free time to seek the advice of knee specialists regarding lingering problems from her previous five surgeries before making a final decision on ski jumping in the fall.
"It's definitely going to be a light season," she said. "I definitely won't go to all the World Cups if I do decide to compete."
Usually, Hendrickson said, she would have all this planned out long in advance, but right now, she is relaxing in her athletic limbo, embracing her role as an ambassador for both intense athletic activity and high-tech mattresses.
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