Penn HS alum Hildebrandt battles through knee injury at Olympic wrestling trials

Published: Apr. 10, 2016 at 8:40 PM EDT
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Sunday was a day for heartbreak for Penn High School alum Sarah Hildebrandt but there was no reason to hang her head.

She and her team kept it a secret that she was suffering from a knee injury which severely hindered her performance in Iowa City. Hildebrandt was suffering from two meniscus tears in her right knee and was having trouble supporting her weight.

"It's been bothering me," Hildebrandt said. "It's an every day thing. Some days are better than others, but I was rehabbing really well before. I wasn't running a lot but unfortunately. Weight cutting is a part of the sport and running goes along with that so you know I put some time in on the treadmill, probably about an hour everyday. So it's pretty hard on my knees. I was probably a little sore a little raw today."

She suffered the injury in August but continued to train through the winter because she did not want to miss out on her dream to compete in the Olympics. Sunday, the only visible signs of the injury were in the form of a white knee pad because she started the day strong.

In the first round, Hildebrandt was strong, defeating her opponent Cady Chessin 10-2. However, she was lacking the power and drive she could usually get off of that right leg.

"I knew it was going to be a problem," Hildebrandt said. "You just push through it. You hope the adrenaline carries you through. In some cases, it did and other times the pain kind of won out."

In round two, the knee was her biggest downfall. Hildebrandt lost 10-0 in a technical fall to Katherine Fulp-Allen. The loss meant her Olympic dreams were over.

"I didn't feel comfortable with my knee," Hildebrandt said. "I didn't trust my body. I wasn't trusting my shots so I think it was fear of that."

"Sarah was really prepared," said Brad Harper, who coaches Penn's High School Wrestling Team and is also coaching Hildebrandt again. "I just think she couldn't hit her whole arsenal. That knee kind of slowed her down a little bit so she had to switch up her situation and her style. That's kind of hard to do when you're at this high level. You need to be 100 percent ready to go if you want to win this. But for what she did, was really good."

However, her day wasn't over. Only the first place finisher in each weight class becomes a member of the US Olympic team but there is money on the line for the remaining wrestlers.

"At that point, I was like you got nothing to lose," Hildebrandt said. "So you might as well have fun. But it's hard to have fun. I really, really believed in myself. It's different. I've had tournaments where I didn't believe in myself so losing didn't sting as much. But I definitely think that I could be the best in the world and it sucks when you're not."

Hildebrandt went to the consolation bracket and in her first round she defeated her opponent Dejan Treder 8-0. She continued on to a second consolation match against Amy Fearnside where Hildebrandt won in the second period by pinning Fearnside. Powering through an injury which should have sidelined her for the tournament.

But in her final match, she had had enough. Hildebrandt was pinned by Michaela Hutchinson and officially finished in fifth place for the tournament. In a battle anyone would be proud of, Hildebrandt felt she let down her support team and more than anything, herself.

"It's a huge disappointment," Hildebrandt said. "I have a lot of people cheering for me and supporting me. I want 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 and I don't really feel like that. So that's rough. That's hard for me to swallow."

But placing fifth in an Olympic Trial after having two tears in her meniscus is nothing to be disappointed in.

"She says she didn't do her best but she did do her best with the situation she was in," Harper said. "I mean, being able to battle through what she had going on was amazing. I went out to the training center and her workouts, she was in pain every practice. For her to come out and wrestle for the situation she was in, she did her best."

Hildebrandt says she is going to get the surgery very soon and she will take some time away from wrestling to spend time with her family. However, 2020 is just around the corner and she can only stay away from the gym so long.

"Tomorrow the sun's going to rise," Hildebrandt said. "It's going to be good. I love the sport. I have a lot of fun with it. Today's not as much fun as other days but I'm always craving to be back in the mat room to get better so I'm looking forward to it. 2020, that's the prime age for most of the Olympians and that's about the age for wrestlers so I think that's my shot and obviously I want to make the world teams before 2020. I know i can do it. I work so hard and nothing is going to change. It just keeps driving and it keeps burning that fire in my belly."