Hendrickson makes Olympics team after ACL surgery

Five months ago, American ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson crashed in a training session, tearing the ACL and MCL off the bone, along with damaging 80 percent of her meniscus.

No way to be back in time for the Sochi Games, right?

Turns out, Hendrickson’s a very fast healer.

The 19-year-old from Park City, Utah, had surgery to repair her right knee on Aug. 29, returned to jumping on Jan. 11 and was named to the U.S. team earlier this week as women’s ski jumping makes its Olympics debut. Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome also made the squad.

“It’s a miracle, kind of,” Hendrickson said of her quick return. “You never know how your body is going to react to that. Luckily, my body responded well. I was able to get strength back and everything working again.”

Hendrickson, the reigning world champion, has no time to squeeze in any competitions before the Olympics begin. That’s all right, Hendrickson said, she’s still confident. After all, she’s won 13 World Cup events since 2011 and figures to be in the medal mix in Russia.

First, though, she had to get over the mental barrier of her crash, which happened in Germany when she overshot her intended landing area. On her first jump back, Hendrickson stared down the hill in Park City, trying to calm her emotions.

“Sitting there, the doubts just run through your head. Everything from, ‘Do I remember how to ski jump?’ to ‘Is my ACL going to completely pop when I land?’” said Hendrickson, who spent nearly six hours a day in the gym getting her knee back into shape. “But I had to be confident that the hard training would pay off. I had to trust that.”

She landed that first jump just fine, like she has countless times before.

Instantly, her confidence was restored.

“I was like, ‘OK, now I can do my normal thing,’” said Hendrickson, who recently appeared in a commercial for Visa ahead of the Sochi Games that’s already garnered more than 1.5 million hits on YouTube.

Her goal, as she recovered, was simply to be in a position to make the team. She was added to the squad after a promising return to jumping and on the strength of her resume.

Sarah has done an outstanding job of taking baby steps every day. She has exceeded everyone’s expectations and continues to do so,” head coach Alan Alborn said.

As for her medal chances, well, don’t discount them.

“I’m going to Sochi to compete,” Hendrickson said, “and whenever I compete, I compete to win.”

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