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Central Elementary Students Learn Life Lessons from Olympian

Olympic athlete and Simsbury native Sara Hendershot paid a special visit to Central School.

Submitted by Simsbury Public Schools

Sara Hendershot began her athletic career like many Simsbury students, playing soccer and swimming. Joining the crew team as a Simsbury High School freshman was just another interest to pursue, however this one eventually brought her achingly close to bringing home a medal from the 2012 Olympic games in London. The Princeton graduate (’10) and her rowing partner, Sarah Zelenka, battled the world’s best in the women’s pair competition this summer but didn’t end up with the results the team was hoping for. For some, finishing fourth is an undesirable club, but Hendershot turned disappointment into inspiration, which she shared with Central Elementary School students at an assembly on September 5th.

In the gym where the assembly took place is posted a sign that says, “Believe You Can Achieve.” Hendershot could have written it herself, as her main message to the children was even if something looks like it isn’t going to happen, if you work hard and keep believing in yourself, it just might. The kindergartners through sixth graders listened raptly as Hendershot talked to them about her athletic journey, including the fact that no one thought she and her partner would make it past the Olympic trials.

“There were athletes in the other boats who worked just as hard as we did to get there,” she noted, attributing their victory at the trials to the simple fact that the team just refused to give up. And, giving hope to students who aspire to be athletes someday but maybe don’t have those skills just yet, she added, “I was not always the best athlete, but I decided it was important to me.”

The rest is history.

Hendershot generously allotted time for questions, with the first few students volunteering that their mom or cousin or aunt was also named Sara. After being reminded to raise their hands with a real question, the students got a little braver and asked Hendershot if she had met Kobe Bryant (unfortunately no), Ryan Lochte (yes), members of the Fierce Five women’s gymnastics team (yes), and Michael Phelps (yes!). Hendershot displayed a photo taken with the popular swim champion, which drew appreciative sighs from many of the girls in the audience.

Central School Principal Edie Balkun raised her own hand to turn the topic to healthy eating, asking Hendershot how she coped with her body’s needs to be fit for the race. The rower replied, “The better food I ate, the better I could perform as an athlete. Nothing that comes in a package or doesn’t come from the ground.”

Revealing her human side, she admitted, “When it was all over, I did allow myself to have ONE McFlurry.”

Balkun underscored Hendershot’s message with a line from a beloved storybook. Said Balkun to the students, “What do you say whenever something seems like it’s really hard to do?”

Answered the students in unison, “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!”

Olympics in Rio in 2016? Hendershot admits she is still in “the deciding process.” There is a gymnasium full of elementary school students who are hoping Sara will say yes to the challenge!

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