Sarah Hendrickson is the daughter of Bill and Nancy Hendrickson, both graduates of Plymouth Regional High School. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 12, 2012PARK CITY, Utah — At the tender age of 17, Sarah Hendrickson is already the answer to a couple of trivia questions.
In December, Hendrickson became the first woman to win a World Cup event in ski jumping and this past weekend, she lifted the crystal globe as the overall World Cup champion, the first female champion ever.
While women have competed in ski jumping for years, this was the first season that there was a World Cup event for the women and Hendrickson was its big star, despite being a wisp of a 17-year-old girl who seemingly would blow away in the wind while soaring off one of the jumps on the circuit.
Hendrickson is the daughter of former Plymouth Regional High School standout skiers Bill Hendrickson and Nancy Bownes Hendrickson. Her grandmother, Arlene Bownes, and many other family members still live in the Plymouth area, though the young champion has lived her life in the winter sports paradise of Park City, Utah.
Longtime Plymouth ski coach Norm LeBlanc remembers Bill Hendrickson and Nancy Bownes Hendrickson as two of the best skiers he ever coached. Bill skied both cross-country and alpine and also jumped and Nancy skied alpine and cross-country, but there was no women's ski jumping at the high school level at that point.
Both the Hendricksons are 1981 graduates of Plymouth and though they have lived out west, maintain a close connection to the area.
Both parents, however, couldn't be more proud of their daughter's accomplishments on the hills of the world.
"It's a little amazing," Nancy said with a laugh. "I can't quite grasp it. It's been quite a year."
"She has a passion for the sport, that's the main foundation," said Bill. "Everything else is a bonus."
Hendrickson clinched the overall World Cup title in Japan the first weekend in March and then got to compete in front of her mother and grandmother, who made the trip to Oslo, Norway, along with LeBlanc and his wife, to see the final competition of the year.
"I haven't seen her since Dec. 28," Nancy said of her daughter prior to heading across the Atlantic.
It was Nancy Hendrickson's job working for the Nordic Sports Foundation, which eventually merged with Park City Nordic and became part of the Utah Olympic Park, that got her daughter into the winter sports.
Bill notes that his daughter began skiing at two and a half years old and he even has pictures and video of her skiing with her grandfather at Tenney Mountain in Rumney as a youngster.
Bill notes that it was his daughter's idea to try the jumps and she did her first one at age seven after watching her older brother Nick, himself an Olympic caliber Nordic Combined athlete.
"She said, I want to do this," Bill said of his daughter's first foray into the jumping world. "It's a little nerve-wracking. The small jumps were not as bad, but anytime she graduated to the next level, you really want them to get a few jumps under their belt."
Bill noted that the coaches at the Utah Olympic Park were very particular in making sure that a jumper didn't jump until he or she was ready, so he knew Sarah was in good hands.
"It's nerve-wracking until they develop a level of competency," he said.
He noted that Nancy's athletic ability and his passion for ski jumping, founded in his days at Plymouth, combined to make Sarah the competitive jumper she is today.
The main focus heading into this year for Sarah was the World Juniors, which took place in Turkey in late February. She had taken the bronze in 2010 and was looking to improve on that (she finished second).
"Obviously that goal's changed a little bit," Nancy said, noting her daughter's impressive showings put her on the World Cup radar for good. "But that was still her goal."
Nancy noted that her daughter was thrilled with the silver medal after putting a lot of pressure on her shoulders going in.
"She's an internal intense," Nancy said. "She's actually a very sweet, happy kid, but she gets a lot of internal drive. She's always been driven 110 percent to something she loves."
After finishing 16th last season in the Continental Cup, the predecessor to the World Cup, and netting some top 10 finishes, her win in the opener of the World Cup season opened some eyes and those eyes have stayed open ever since.
"It's amazing," Bill said. "I don't think there was any anticipation that she was going to win. But it wasn't a fluke.
"At this point, she's earned her keep," he said, noting his daughter is now sponsored, which allows her to remain even more committed to the sport while still finishing high school.
"Because of a lot of generous people, they can now get sponsors," Bill said.
Both parents note that being a competitive athlete at a high level has made their daughter an even better person than she already was.
"She's got to be organized," Bill said. "She's grown up and acquired those skills, which are transferable to real life, and college and getting a job."
"She's staying healthy and positive," Nancy said. "I attribute that to herself, her coaches and her teammates."
Nancy noted that while watching her teenage daughter soar off a jump in some foreign land on a live feed on the Internet can be a little intense, there is something to be said for letting kids chase their dreams.
"I don't think parents should hold their children back," she said. "We have to create wings for them."
She noted a particular moving moment as a parent came when Sarah and Nick had the chance to meet up in Slovenia last year. Sarah's teammates reported that it lifted the teenager's spirits to see her big brother, as both spend significant time on the road competing.
"It was so nice to have Nick there for a little while," Nancy reports Sarah's teammates as saying.
Nick also continues to be dedicated to his sport, which combines cross-country skiing and ski jumping and is chasing his Olympic dreams as his sister looks to be the first female Olympic ski jumping champion in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
Women's ski jumping was just added to the Olympics for the first time.
"The World Cup level is a bonus, opportunity for the Olympics in two years is a bonus," Bill said. "I bet she'd keep doing it even without the Olympics.
"It's been a seven-year battle to get in the Olympics," he added.
While the Olympics are a possibility and more success is surely ahead, Sarah can already rest her head on what she's accomplished at the age of 17.
But, it's a safe bet she won't be resting much. There's plenty of jumping to do.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126