Ski jumper Hendrickson ready to compete after layoff that reignited her passion
PARK CITY, Utah — If you would’ve asked Sarah Hendrickson in January if she would ever ski jump again, she wouldn’t have known what to say. At 25 years old, and after years of triumphs and tribulations in the sport, the women’s ski jumping pioneer had no idea what her future held.
“I really didn’t know if I was going to come back because I seriously considered being done,” Hendrickson said. “I honestly think some people, including my coaches, family and agent, thought I was done because they knew how many bad days I had where I was just so over it. … But then I jumped a few times in February and it all changed.”
Over the ensuing few months, Hendrickson began ski jumping regularly, while in Park City and Steamboat Springs. As the Park City native flew through the air each time, it was as if she was jumping toward her love of the sport. Upon landing each time, Hendrickson was all smiles, as she knew there was no way she was ready to give up the sport.
In April, she made it official. The former world champion was back to training full-time with the goal of competing for the upcoming season.
“I’m not joking when I say this, but I seriously couldn’t stop smiling, it was that much fun to be jumping again,” Hendrickson said. “Technically what I did wasn’t anything special, but my body felt good and my mind was super happy. … I was like OK let’s get back into more ski-jumping specific training and see what happens.”
Before the revelation happened, Hendrickson had decided to step away from the snow and skis, things that have controlled her life since she was 2-years-old.
“I was exhausted mentally and physically to the point where I was just going through the motions but definitely not enjoying it like in the past,” she said. “I learned that you can go through all the motions but if there’s no passion, you really aren’t going to be successful. It’s really rare to be successful in that case, and I know I wasn’t going down the correct path.”
After recovering from knee surgery in early 2018, Hendrickson headed east last fall to live near Aspen, with her boyfriend Torin Yater-Wallace, a freestyle skier for Team USA. While there, she attended community college classes at Colorado Mountain College, reveling in the anonymity while slowly getting back to doing things she loved: hiking, yoga and mountain biking.
Originally, Hendrickson was planning on returning to Park City for the second half of the winter season late last year. But a weird, and ultimately rewarding, twist of fate caused her to stay in Colorado a little longer than expected.
“My boyfriend shattered both of his feet competing in the halfpipe, so he was in a wheelchair for three months and needed help,” Hendrickson said. “I decided to stay back and take care of him, and in the end, it proved out to be a great thing for us both. I got to keep going to school, got to ski a bit and for as rough as it was, it was a pretty great winter.”
That extra time allowed Hendrickson to get back into skiing, but at her own pace. She fell in love with skiing for enjoyment again, something she’d missed ever since she became a prominent figure in ski jumping and was forced to give up Alpine skiing and ski touring, two of her passions.
Hendrickson’s renewed enthusiasm manifested itself when, 18 months after she last competed, Hendrickson traveled to Lillehammer, Norway, and Stams, Austria, in mid-September to compete in two Continental Cups, where she finished in the top-10 in both events.
Now that she’s back, and has had time to reflect on the competitions, Hendrickson admits she hasn’t felt this good mentally or physically since 2015.
One of the biggest differences about competing now, she said, is that she’s finally doing it for herself. Her sense of confidence and calmness stems from the fact that she knows that her “plan B” in life, which she lived the previous year and a half, not only works for her but is something she loves.
“I fully believe that I’m OK now because I have plan B and am excited and ready for when that time comes,” Hendrickson said. “Ski jumping is and was my identity. Especially when I was winning, it was very much my entire identity. But now that I’ve found other outlets that I’m competent in, I can now shape who I’m becoming into someone I actually want to be.”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”