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Article: Injured Hildebrandt keeps head high, eyes another run at Olympics

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sarah Hildebrandt’s U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials experience didn’t end the way she wanted.

Wrestling with a right knee injury (impingement and torn meniscus) that few people knew about heading into the tournament, the Penn High School graduate went 3-2 in the 53 kg (116.5 pounds) bracket Sunday, April 10 at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The former King University grappler was dominant in her three victories, but her losses were by superiority and pin.

“I actually felt pretty relaxed out there,” Hildebrandt said. “But I didn’t feel comfortable with my knee. I didn’t trust my body. I didn’t trust in my shots. When you have an injury, there’s always a little fear (of pain).

“(My knee has) been bothering me. It’s really an everyday thing. Some days are better than others. Unfortunately, weight-cutting is part of this sport and running goes along with that. I put some time in on the treadmill — about an hour everyday — and it’s pretty hard on my knees.”

Like most Olympic hopefuls, Hildebrandt works out multiple times a day and it takes a physical toll and it did on her knee.

“I knew it could be a problem,” Hildebrandt said. “I just pushed through it and hoped the adrenaline would push me through. At times, it did, and at other times pain won out.”

Hildebrandt’s day began with a 10-2 win over Cady Chessin. She lost out on a chance at the 2016 Rio Olympics (only the champion advances) with a 10-0 loss to Katherine Fulp-Allen.

That was followed by two victories — 8-0 over Dajan Treder and pin of Amy Fearnside in 5:44. The day ended with a loss by pin to Michalea Hutchison in 2:44.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” Hildebrandt said. “I know I had a lot of people cheering for me and supporting me. I wanted to wrestle well for them but for myself as well. Even if I have a bad day, I want to walk off the mat saying I did my best. I don’t feel like that. That’s rough. That’s hard for me to swallow.”

Brad Harper, Hildebrandt’s coach at Penn, was in her corner at all her Iowa City matches and has continued to be there for her in the five years since she graduated from high school. The Kingsmen’s head coach marveled at her willingness to go hard despite the agony.

“She said she didn’t do her best, but she did do her best with the situation she was in. To battle through what she had going on was amazing. I went out to the training center (in Colorado Springs, Colo.) and with her workouts, she was in pain at every practice.”

Hildebrandt, who began her wrestling career at Discovery Middle School in Granger, was full of confidence in the months leading up to Iowa City.

“I really, really believed in myself,” Hildebrandt said. “I’ve had tournaments where I didn’t believe in myself and losing didn’t sting as much. I definitely think I can be the best in the world.”

Hildebrandt’s immediate plans call for knee surgery then quality family time and some relaxation.

“I’d like to go somewhere warm and sit on the beach,” Hildebrandt said.

But she won’t stay away from the sport she loves and still has Olympic dreams.

“I love the sport,” Hildebrandt said. “I have lotta lotta fun with it. This was not as fun as some other days. But I’ll always crave getting back in the mat room.”

The 22-year-old hopes to take a shot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and all that entails.

“I’ve worked so hard and nothing’s going to change. I’ll just keep striving and burning the fire in my belly.”

Harper believes in Hildebrandt’s mat future.

“She just needs to get healthy and train smarter,” Harper said. “She needs to just keep getting better day by day. When 2020 comes, she will dominate.”

And as for 2016?

“I’m still an American and I want to help my team,” Hildebrandt said. “I know it will be a quick turn-around, but if I can get in there and help the girls on the Olympic team, I would love to.”


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