After Stirring Rally, Sara Hendershot '10 Will Seek Olympic Gold In Pairs
GoPrincetonTigers.com will provide profiles, video interviews and Q&As of each of its eight rowers headed to the London Olympics. See the schedule below:
Monday: Caroline Lind '06
Tuesday: Robin Prendes '11 l Lauren Wilkinson '11
Wednesday: Sara Hendershot '10 l Sam Loch '06
Thursday: Glenn Ochal '08 l Gevvie Stone '07
Friday: Andréanne Morin '06 l Daily Olympic Schedule
Princeton open crew won NCAA gold in 2006 and 2011. It won Eastern Sprints gold and the Ivy League titles in 2006 and 2011. Those were two of the most magical years in the proud tradition of one of the sport's top collegiate programs.
In between those two years was the four-year collegiate career of Sara Hendershot '10.
Hendershot came too late for the 2006 party, and a year too soon for the one in 2011. But it was her presence in the program that helped the Tigers make the transition between the two golden years.
And, ultimately, it was the work that she did during that time that helped her during the most important 2,000 meters of her life.
Over the last 16 years of Princeton open crew, the Tigers lost 20 dual races. Six of them came during Hendershot's freshman year in 2007. The Tigers lost two in 2008, but they failed to medal at Sprints and missed the NCAA grand final for the first time since 2003.
A change in mentality was necessary, and during her years as an upperclassman, Hendershot made sure it would happen.
"There was a mindset shift when we were seniors," said Hendershot, referring to a 2010 season when Princeton went unbeaten during the regular season. "We refused to lose, and nothing was ever good enough. I think that's what took [Princeton] through all of its success in 2011."
Though Hendershot refused to take any credit for being part of that title, both head coach Lori Dauphiny and Canadian Olympian Lauren Wilkinson '11 both praised the leadership Hendershot and fellow co-captain Ari Frost '10 showed during the critical 2010 season. Princeton would ascend to the No. 1 ranking nationally, but it missed out on the Ivy League title by less than one second during a classic Sprints showdown with Yale.
Hendershot stroked the 2010 Princeton crew, and then went on to win gold in the four at the 2010 World Rowing U-23 Championships. She won gold in the four at the 2011 World Rowing championships, and focused her preparation on the 2012 Olympics.
While training, Hendershot found a comfortable pairing with Sarah Zelenka, a 2005 graduate of Grand Valley State University. When both realized that they wouldn't be in the eight or the four, they focused on their own boat and the uphill climb ahead.
The final part of that climb came on June 14, when Hendershot and Zelenka met the team of Amanda Polk and Jamie Redman to earn the lone U.S. berth in the W2-. Polk and Redman were part of the defending U.S. world champions in the W8+.
It looked pretty ugly, pretty quickly.
"We knew we were the underdogs heading into the race," Hendershot said during the USRowing Media Day. "We knew we were going to be down early, and we were. I took the split afterwards, and we were down five seconds at the 1,000-meter mark. So we spent 500 meters gaining contact again."
The one race was almost a total microcosm of her collegiate career. Down early. Bleak outlook. Fighting from behind. Never giving up.
But it wasn't a complete microcosm. The ending was blissfully different.
"I could tell it was happening with about 200 meters to go," she remembered. "I just kept saying 'London, London, we're going, we're doing this, row well.' It was just a huge wave of relief, but it didn't sink it for about a week."
Hendershot credits Dauphiny for teaching her how to fight back, and to row through anything. Those skills served Princeton rowing, and they served Hendershot.
And regardless of any deficit in London, you can count on those skills continuing to serve her next week.