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Sarah Hendrickson

Ski Jumper

Park City, UT

I was all in. Whether I made the team or not, I knew that at least I could look back and say I gave it 110%.

My Olympic dream began a few years after I started ski jumping. That was before I realized it was an impossible dream, simply because I am female. Women’s ski jumping has never been an Olympic sport — until now.

The Sochi games are the first time in history that women ski jumpers are allowed to compete for gold. I dearly wanted a place on this historic team. But first, I had to overcome the worst day of my life, when that dream seemed like it was crushed all in a matter of seconds.

Last August, I laid at the bottom of the ski jump, thousands of miles from home as an unimaginable amount of pain overtook my right knee. I had just flown 148 meters — and landed flat 15 meters too far. Minutes before, I was on track for the Olympics with what people call “medal potential.” Lying at the bottom of the hill that day, I thought it was all over. That was my lowest moment.

I underwent reconstructive knee surgery to repair my ACL and MCL, which was torn off the bone. I received stitches to both sides of my meniscus. All this, five months before the Games.

When I got back to the States, I was surprised to hear my doctor tell me that it was still possible to make it to Sochi. He said that if anyone could come back in time, it would be me. If that doctor knew me better he might haven chosen his words a little more carefully, because I took that to heart and ran.

Over the next four months, I put in hours and hours at the gym to make my dream come true. When I talked to the media they often asked me, “Why are you even trying? It takes over eight months to recover from an injury that bad." Well I’ll tell you right now, those people just pushed me harder to prove them wrong. I couldn't control how quickly my body healed, but I could pour my complete focus into working out and rehab. I spent anywhere from five to seven hours every day strengthening, icing, and preparing to take on the greatest goal of my life.

All this time, I had no idea what the outcome would be. But I was all in. I knew that I had to work as hard as possible to even have a chance. Whether I made the team or not, I knew that at least I could look back and say I gave it 110%.

A little less than five months after my surgery, I passed my strength tests and got the clear from my doctor: I could ski jump again. It was an amazing feeling. I was one step closer to my goal. Since I didn't compete in World Cups this season, my coach had to decide if I would be ready for Sochi based on my past performance and current training level. We decided to go for it. After endless hours and days of tears, I was named to the 2014 Sochi Olympic team for women's ski jumping for the first time in history.

Few people understood what I went through when coming back from my injury. I set my heart on my dream years ago and I didn’t let anything stop me. I knew that I was working against all odds, but that if I succeeded, I would be an Olympian.

This week in Sochi, that's exactly what I will be.

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