Huge honor to open competition
I think most people would agree that the Olympic Games are in a category by themselves. It's almost frustrating that media and others pay attention to your hard work for only that one event every four years. If you succeed, you're forever a legend. If you fall to the bottom, you're almost kicked to the curb, regardless of other results you have achieved.
This might be harsh and negative, but the world of sport is not always glamorous, and that's why Olympic athletes are their own breed. They prepare for the pressure, and although everyone dreams of gold, they have the tough mind to fight back even if it isn't successful.
I can relate. As the current world champion in women's ski jumping, it was the most difficult thing ever to go to Sochi not at my highest level. I finished 21st in the normal hill event. I had taken only about 20 training jumps, limited weight programs, and was far away from how prepared I wanted to be because of my major knee injury just 5½ months earlier. Not to mention my knee was swollen and the pain was limiting my muscle activation while jumping. My doctor told me over and over again that my knee was stable and ready, but my mind could not get over the pain. I guess what it comes down to was the frustration of entering the biggest day of your life, limping in pain as you reach the top of the hill.
One of the coolest parts of my event was the fact that I was bib No. 1 and therefore the first woman ever to ski jump in an Olympic event. Ever since my injury, I have been trying to understand why I got hurt back in August because I believe everything happens for a reason. I think I found it. The bib order is decided by World Cup overall points (then inverted), and since I had not competed in any this season, I was unranked and thus first on the list. For me, this was a huge honor to open up the competition for a group of women who have worked so hard, not just on the athletic side but also the political side. The fight for equality with women's ski jumping gaining an Olympic event was tedious, and although we have more work to do, being involved in the first one was monumental.
Although I am not happy about my result and am still having trouble getting over why I had to get hurt, the lessons I learned to get to Sochi and compete at the Olympic level changed me as a person. Looking back at the hard work I put forth, I have to remind myself that I did everything possible to make the Sochi Olympic team and walk away proud to be included on the World stage. In addition, the experience and the memories reignited my passion for sports and have given me excitement for the future. I got only a small bite of the Olympic dream, and I am in full force fighting my way to make it back in four short years. I have high expectations for myself from now until 2018, but if I got through this past challenge, there are very few things that will stop me in the future!
Thanks to everyone for the never-ending kind words through this entire process, and I hope everyone enjoyed watching us ladies fly into history!
Sarah Hendrickson is a member of the Visa Women's Ski Jumping Team and Women's Ski Jumping USA. She's the reigning world champion and was a member of the inaugural U.S. Olympic women's ski jumping team in Sochi.