Sara Hendershot, Momentous’ Director of Marketing, is an Olympic rower, successful entrepreneur and living proof that athletes can continue to train and perform at a high level after their athletic peaks. After competing in London in 2012, Sara has transferred her competitive fire from the water into her career and the gym, where she’s now an avid Crossfitter and weightlifter.
Sara carved out a few minutes to talk about training, taking risks in life, career accomplishments and finishing fourth in the Olympics.
Rowing is an easy sport to fall in love with, but to master it requires a blend of so many elements — you need massive endurance, power, finesse, boat feel, body awareness, adaptability, teamwork and a tough-as-nails mentality. I love the feeling of being in an incredible amount of pain and thinking there’s no way you could take another stroke, then somehow finding a way to go even faster.
My college rowing experience was very unique because each day I was rubbing shoulders with Olympians. The US National Rowing team trains out of Princeton, NJ, and we shared a locker room while I was in college. It was one of those cool experiences where idols become rivals. I had photos of these women on my bedroom wall in high school and suddenly they were real people in front of me who I could compare myself to and imagine beating. Being that close to so much talent is what made the Olympics feel achievable and within reach.
I love the feeling of being in an incredible amount of pain and thinking there’s no way you could take another stroke, then somehow finding a way to go even faster.
I made the risky decision after school to follow my passion. I had a job offer from a bank on Wall Street and chose to turn the offer down to pursue rowing. There have been a few moments in my life that required a big, risky leap, and this was one of them. I walked away from a stable, high paying position with a fairly clear future to see if I could achieve my goal of becoming an Olympian.
A normal week of training on the National Team included 240 kilometers of rowing. Our days were made up of two or three practices per day where building mileage was the main goal, and those left standing at the end of a training cycle were the athletes named to the final roster.
My Olympic Trials race was one of the most dramatic finishes our sport has ever seen. My partner and I needed to win the race and beat two World Champions and World Record holders in order to secure our spot on the team. On paper, we had no chance — we were smaller, less fit, and less experienced. At the halfway point of the race, we were behind by 5 seconds, usually an insurmountable gap. But with the biggest sprint we’d ever had to summon, we built momentum and were able to sneak ahead of our competitors and grab our Olympic berth. Crossing that finish line in first is still the greatest high I’ve ever felt.
My unfair advantage as an athlete is my ability to smell blood in the water. I can sense when my competition is vulnerable or having a moment of weakness, and I use it to break them. I want to put my competitors somewhere they don’t want to be, and then push harder, because I know they will quit and I won’t. It’s fun having no regard for my own body’s well-being.
I raced at the Olympics and finished in fourth place. We were behind bronze by 0.2 seconds. Everything you hear about fourth place being the worst position to finish in is true, and it definitely haunted me for a while after. With time comes perspective, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience and the incredible opportunity to represent my country on the world stage.
Rowing has taught me so much about team chemistry. Talent and hard work are the bare minimum required to reach great success, but the chemistry of your team can be a massive advantage. Understanding what makes a teammate tick and how best to motivate them in a tough situation, when to support them and when to push them, can lead to moments where it’s hard to tell where you end and your teammates begin.
Injury is what lead me to discover the art of training. It wasn’t until my second Olympic cycle that I fell in love with the process and started paying attention to the details. Training is the easy part, but it is intention that separates the good from the great. When I made big changes to my nutrition, recovery, sleep, mobility, movement patterns, and psychology, I was finally able to stay healthy and reach my potential.
When I retired from rowing, I knew I wanted my next team to be as obsessively high achieving as myself. It’s really fun to be part of a team now where everyone believes in good nutrition, the importance of staying fit, and has a burning desire to be the best. It was a no-brainer for me to join Momentous because I believe in our mission so completely. Working directly with some of the world’s best athletes makes this job even more fun.
Training is the easy part, but it is intention that separates the good from the great.
I didn’t use supplements while I was training full-time, but if Momentous had been around then, this is what I would have used. I was so terrified of popping positive on a drug test from an unintentional contamination, that I didn’t take anything at all. The NSF certification is such a commitment from our brand that I love being able to share Momentous as a safe way to improve your recovery. Not to mention that it’s the highest quality product out there.
I’m no longer an elite athlete, but I still treat myself like a high performer. I see so much value in this process, because maximizing your performance as a human is what allows you to reach your potential.
Spending a year traveling the world made me realize I don’t need much to be happy. My now-husband was also my coach for years, and I feel so lucky that we were able to experience many of those moments together. We spanned the globe training and traveling, living out of two suitcases. Those are some of our simplest and happiest memories together. Give us a place to stay, good food, people we love, and a way to train, and we’re set.
I only have one piece of ink, and it’s the Olympic rings on my left leg. It’s a nice daily reminder of the work that I put in to get there and the qualities I want to continue to embody. When my siblings and I were younger, my dad used to say that the only tattoo we were allowed to get was the Olympic rings, and I guess I took that pretty literally.