In just 36 days, Simsbury residents will have a special reason to tune in to the 2012 Summer Olympics as one of their own launches into the international spotlight in London.
Simsbury native Sara Hendershot and her rowing partner Sarah Zelenka of Itasca, Ill., earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team when they won the women's pair event during the Olympic rowing trials at Mercer Lake in New Jersey last Thursday.
The pair finished the trials, with a final race time of 7:27.544, ahead of their USRowing Training Center Team members Amanda Polk and Jamie Redman.
"It feels pretty amazing, pretty surreal," Hendershot said. "I feel like I worked really hard for this but I was also really lucky."
Hendershot's family was there to watch as she accompished a huge milestone in her athletic career.
"They just couldn't stop crying, cheering, and yelling," Hendershot said.
Hendershot graduated from in 2006 and graduated from Princeton University, where she majored in psychology, in 2010.
The 24-year-old got her start in rowing on the Farmington River in Simsbury where she rowed for the Simsbury High School Crew team.
Simsbury Girls Head Coach Mark Raymond said he remembers the day when the 5' 11" athlete first decided to join the junior varsity team he was coaching at the time.
"You just knew she was going to be successful," Raymond said.
Raymond also coached Hendershot in swimming during the winter and was already familiar with her athletic ability. A shoulder injury prevented Hendershot from pursuing her swimming career, which led her to the Paine Boathouse in the spring of her freshman year.
"Right from the get-go she worked really hard and picked up rowing very quickly," Raymond said.
Hendershot, who also played soccer during the fall, quickly discovered a fondness for the sport.
"I thought maybe I could take this somewhere," Hendershot said.
The young athlete worked hard during the season and during the summer attended USRowing camps during her freshman and sophomore years, according to Raymond.
"She attended the camps and took notes and then came back and shared information and ideas with the team," Raymond said. "Coaching Sara was always easy because she always wanted to learn and work hard."
Raymond was pleased to see one of his rowers continue the sport at the collegiate level and even happier to see her accompish a major goal she set for herself at a young age.
"Obviously as a high school coach I just want to get my kids excited about the sports that I coach," Raymond said. "Hopefully I helped her fall in love with the sport."
Hendershot said her time on the Simsbury High School Crew team gave her the foundation she needed to be competitive when she began her college career.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't learned what I did on the Farmington," Hendershot said.
As a young student, Hendershot remembers when she was first inspired to work toward competing in the Olympic games. When she was 10-years-old, Hendershot wrote a book report on Olympic athlete Janet Evans.
"Since then I've always had a dream of going to the Olympics," Hendershot said.
Raymond reminisced about a special visit from Samantha Magee, another Simsbury native who earned a silver medal in the women's eight event in the 2004 Olympics, at the Paine Boathouse. Magee joined Hendershot and her teammates for a row on the Farmington River and Hendershot had a chance to sit behind an Olympic medalist.
"As soon as I heard about Sara making the team I thought about that moment and how she gets to be that person now."
Upon college graduation in 2010, Hendershot and Zelenka began their Olympic training with the USRowing National Team under Women’s Open Weight Head Coach Tom Terhaar.
Although they haven’t trained together the whole time, the pair has had two years of intense strength and endurance training, practicing on erg machines, and many hours on the water. Hendershot has spent most of her time between Lake Carnegie and Mercer Lake in New Jersey.
Hendershot said her training regimen has kept her busy seven days each week.
“Sometimes we get an afternoon off, but otherwise it’s three practices a day,” Hendershot said.
In just a few weeks the hard work will pay off when the team heads to London for the 2012 Olympic Games. They will arrive two weeks before the opening ceremony for more training on Dorney Lake in Eton, UK, where the rowing competition will take place.
“I think we are in medal contention for sure,” Hendershot said. “The goal has always been an Olympic medal. I think it’s a very realistic goal.”
The first heat of the Women’s Pair event will be held on July 28 and Hendershot said she’ll have plenty of support when she hits the water.
“Everyone is going to be there. Immediate family, aunts, uncles, extended family, friends. It’s going to be a really fun time and lot of supporters will be there.”
“I can’t wait to represent the U.S., and I’m excited that I get to represent the Simsbury Crew team.”