“Just get out there and know you have the opportunities. Just try it.”
–Sarah Hendrickson, on encouraging young women to take up a sport.
Wondering who Sarah Hendrickson is? After this year’s Olympics you probably won’t have the same question. But for now, let me answer that for you. Hendrickson is the reigning female ski-jumper world champion. Now nineteen years old, Hendrickson started jumping when she was just seven. By the time she was twelve she was jumping off the Olympic large hill at the Utah Olympic Park and just one short year later she was traveling all over the world for competitions. At a young age of thirteen, Hendrickson was ready to make a name for herself, ready to go all the way to the top.
The problem? Hendrickson excelled in a sport that didn’t really support her, that didn’t really support any women athletes- until recently. The 2014 Winter Soci Olympics will be the first time women athletes will be competing in the ski jumping event and Hendrickson will finally get to celebrate her success, along with many other female ski jumpers, the way she deserves. The long battle is finally over. Female ski jumpers have been petitioning to be included in the Olympics since 1998. They have heard all sorts of excuses ranging from it’s a man’s sport, there aren’t enough women involved, or that it’s not “medically appropriate” for women to participate. Hendrickson and other young aspiring ski jumpers had full support of their older teammates, women who knew what an accomplishment and honor being an Olympic athlete truly was. Just before the 2010 Vancouver games, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jermone helped to lead a gender discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at the time, but a year later in 2011 the International Olympic Committee finally approved women’s ski jumping as an Olympics sport looking ahead to 2014.
This story really stuck out to me because this just isn’t something many people think about anymore. We get too comfortable, we think that since we have come such a long in gender equality that’s enough, we assume that everyone has the same rights, we don’t pay attention to it anymore. This proves that there’s still plenty left to do and that there are really amazing women out there trying to make it all happen. I was a competitive swimmer since I was 9/10 years old all throughout college. I was lucky enough in those 12-13 years never once to feel undervalued or excluded based on my sex. I was lucky enough to be in a sport in which, because of the brave women that came before me, I was accepted. Being a part of a competitive sport has taught me more skills, values, and life lessons then I would have ever imagined. Being fully immersed in a sport goes way beyond the physical, it shapes the person you become mentally along the way. You form friendships, develop skills, experience failures, celebrate successes- you inherit a second family. I never once stopped to think that other women haven’t been as lucky as I have been. I never once stopped to think that the struggle isn’t over.
Despite being excluded in the Olympics, these female ski jumpers could still compete, could still enjoy the sport, could still excel on an international level. But, in the end they were still told they couldn’t do something that their male counterparts have been doing since 1924. Their success automatically stopped. Not because they couldn’t make it to the Olympics but because someone told them they couldn’t. As Hendrickson recounts in a TIME interview (in which I got the rest of this information as well), “It’s really hard to pursue a sport like that, where there’s not really support, not really a future.” With all setbacks and disappointments included, Hendrickson stuck it out despite her temptation to switch her full focus onto soccer. She is a prime example that nothing is truly impossible. If you want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes to get there.
What does this mean for all us non-Olympic-athletes? A lot.
1. Never take anything for granted. Be thankful for every person, place, thing, or opportunity in your life.
2. Support and inspire each other.
3. Try something new.
4. Don’t take “no” as an answer for anything.
5. Do what you love.
6. Never pass up a new opportunity and don’t give up on old ones.
7. Always seize the moment.
The Olympics are about more than just the sport. It’s about what it takes to get there and the lessons you learn a long the way- it’s about the journey, both good and bad. This year while I am watching the Olympics, this is what it will mean to me. It will be about the athlete’s impact both on and off the “court.” It will be about their impact on people just like me. What does the Olympics mean to you?