By STEVE KRAH
Sarah Hildebrandt is an Indiana girl.
And even though she now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., the 50g Tokoyo Olympics qualifier for the U.S. has gotten a chance to come back to her back yard as the Games approach.
An Olympic Wrestling Training camp for women is happening June 27-July 7 at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, not far from where Hildebrandt grew up in Granger and attended Penn High School.
An Olympic-style tournament and simulation was begun June 28 and concludes June 29.
Through donors and the work of Penn head coach Brad Harper, her father Chris Hildebrandt and many others, the camp was established in Indiana as part of a circuit that came out of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs being closed to non-residents because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I’m so so grateful,” says Hildebrandt, 27. “There's so much to it and then I just feel so supported and loved.
“It’s so special to me and it really made me emotional like when we finally got the clearance for it. So many people who have put a lot into this dream and I feel like right now we kind of all get to share that and that's really cool.”
Jen Seltzer, mother of two-time IHSAA state champion Zeke Seltzer (Indianapolis Cathedral Class of 2022), is an executive with Kroger and helped supply snacks.
Led by U.S. national women’s coach Terry Steiner, the camp includes four of six Olympians (Hildebrandt, Jacara Winchester at 53kg, Tamaya Stock Mensah at 68kg and Adeline Gray a 76kg) and many national team members. Olympic qualifiers Kayla Miracle (62kg), a 2014 Culver Academies graduate, and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis (57kg) are working on strength training in Arizona.
Hildebrandt has been working with Harper since she was a Penn freshman and the two have been around the world for competitions. Harper will be in her corner in Tokyo.
Harper knows what makes Hildebrandt tick. She has to find something that makes it fun for her and cuts the tension.
“When you see Sarah joking and laughing it's like, yep, she's ready,” says Harper. “When she does that it means she's ready flip the switch.”
Hildebrandt’s using the camp to refine as Tokyo (freestyle wrestling is Aug. 4-7).
“I really like that to be able to recognize a mistake in the middle of a fast-paced match, correct it and convert it into offensive points,” says Hildebrandt. “It’s nice to have this atmosphere. I do feel nervous and I do feel a lot how I do in competition so I’m able to navigate those emotions as well.”
There are invitation-only spectators at the camp, including some adoring youngsters.
Those admirers help fuel Hildebrandt.
“If I see a picture of little girls watching us or asking for my autograph it doesn't get old every single time,” says Hildebrandt. “It’s so just inspiring and motivating.
“I didn’t have that growing up.”
With the pandemic the Tokyo Games were delayed by a year and international fans won’t be allowed.
Hildebrandt has learned to put the situation in perspective.
“If you could just let me get my shot at my medal, I won't complain about anything,” says Hildebrandt. “I won't go to opening ceremonies. I won't need any of the hoopla.”
Steiner points out the qualities of Indiana products Hildebrandt and Miracle.
For Hildebrandt, it’s here positive attitude and drive.
“She’s a competitor and you can see that in her family,” says Steiner. “She’s making the right choices, not just on the mat but lifestyle choices.
“I can never predict outcome, but I know she’s as prepared as she’s ever been stepping into a major competition.”
What makes 25-year-old Miracle go?
“She’s a very different athlete,” said Steiner. “She has a lot of confidence in herself and a very unique style. She’s very explosive and very strong.”
Steiner, who was an NCAA champion wrestler at the University of Iowa in the early 1990’s, notes that U.S. women are veteran that all six were the top seeds going into the Olympic Trials — the first time there were no trial upsets.
“They're very professional in what they're doing when they come in they have their plans set and they go about their business,” says Steiner.
“They're really dialed-in. They know what's at stake.
“My biggest job right now is to keep reminding them that — with or without Olympic gold — it’s not likely to change.
“They've already won. I mean that. The attributes that win gold medals, they're showing me on a daily basis.
They’ve got to keep looking at it in a positive light and there’s an opportunity in front of them to do great things.”