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Olympian Sarah Hendrickson: Ski-Jumping Is 'Like Putting Your Hand Out the Car Window'

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Johnny Dodd is a reporter and writer for PEOPLE, currently in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics. You can follow him on Twitter @Johnny_Dodd

I don’t know what you’re doing later today, but I’m catching a shuttle and heading up into the mountains above Sochi to check out Sarah Hendrickson, the reigning world ski jumping champ, at the RusSki Gorki Center.

I spoke to the 19-year-old Park City, Utah, native for a bit on the day she was named to the U.S. team, and she answered a question that I’d always wondered about: What does it feel like to rocket off the lip of a jump at 60 m.p.h. and soar hundreds of feet through the sky?

“It’s kind of like putting your hand out the car window when you’re on the highway, and you feel it move around because of the effect the wind has on it,” she told me. “That’s what it feels like to jump, only instead of your hand, you feel the sensation over your whole body.”

Of course, achieving that sensation can be risky – Hendrickson has overcome a gnarly knee injury to compete in the Olympic debut of women’s ski jumping. But as she told me earlier, the high she gets from jumping is “the best feeling in the world.”

“Everything goes in slow motion, and all your worries go away,” she explained. “You’re totally aware of exactly what your body is doing as you cut through the air. You can feel the air on your hands and how, if you move them even a little bit, you feel the effect it has on your flight. It’s really a feeling like none other.”

Hendrickson found her love of ski jumping through her father, Bill, who was also accomplished at the sport. Prior to the Games, the two sat down to talk about their high-flying connection as part of the Kellogg’s Share What You Love campaign. Hear more from them in this cute clip, which shows Sarah on skis as a tot.

The RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center
Tune in to NBC tonight to catch Hendrickson’s gravity-defying stunts. If you can’t wait for all the action, check back with for spoiler-free coverage and more of Johnny’s dispatches from the Games

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