Sarah Hildebrandt punched her ticket to Tokyo at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in April, and now she's shooting for gold as she prepares to make her Olympic debut. With four gold medals under her belt from the Pan American Championships, alongside a gold from the 2019 Pan American Games and a silver from the 2018 World Wrestling Championships, Hildebrandt is one of the top newcomers set to represent the United States in wrestling this summer.
As part of our preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to a wide range of athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the field of play.
Here’s some of what we found out about Sarah Hildebrandt:
Tell us about your family.
I come from a family of six. My parents, Nancy and Chris. Then I have three siblings. My older brother Cory, my younger sister Amy, and my youngest brother Drew. My entire family has been involved in wrestling. I guess you could say we took living room wrestling a little too seriously. We are a really close bunch though. They are my support system and best friends.
Where does your family come from?
My family way back when is from Germany, but have been in the States for some time. Currently, my parents live in Granger, Indiana, where I spent most of my later childhood. We moved around a bit when I was first growing up. All the moving really solidified the friendship and bond between me and my siblings.
Parent influence on athletic career?
My parents were everything in my athletic career. Despite having four children, they somehow still managed to let us sign up for multiple sports, and get us to all the practices and games. Let me paint this picture; we were a 5k family, meaning my parents would be looking for a race every weekend, and early as heck come Sunday, our whole family would be lined up at the starting line ready to compete. Beyond that though, the fact that my parents not only allowed me to wrestle, but encouraged me through it. I was asking to join an all men's wrestling team. I know they weren't sold on the idea at first, but they knew I wanted to do it, so they supported me. They've never stopped.
How has your hometown shaped who you are today?
Granger is a place I am forever grateful for. When joining the men's wrestling team, I could have been harassed, bullied, straight up refused. Instead, the town really embraced it. They gave me an opportunity to chase a dream, without knowing of any of the opportunities ahead of me. They believed in empowering a little girl, and without that, there is no way I would be where I am today.
How much time do you train? How much do you sleep?
I train for about six hours every day, excluding things like recovery, sports psych, sports med. I sleep for seven to eight hours.
What's your favorite workout?
Well, my favorite workout is wrestling. Just hard, gritty wrestling. I feel the most free and feel it is the most physically demanding workout there is. If we aren't counting our actual sport, yoga would be my favorite workout. I try and practice yoga twice a week.
What's the most grueling workout you've ever done?
One time I did a mile of burpees. Yes. One mile of burpees. Instead of jumping up, I jumped forward. For a mile. Please note I said, one time I did that. Never again.
Nutrition is very important in my life. Wrestling is a weight category sport so whether I like it or not, the scale is an everyday thing in my life. I like to eat clean and remain pretty disciplined pretty much year round. I allow sweets and cheats, of course, because my sweet tooth is unmatched, but I think it's important to eat clean. For breakfast I usually do an egg, some turkey bacon, and a piece of toast. For lunch and dinner, I am having lots and lots of veggies. Any and all are welcomed. I'll add some protein and a carb as well, but vegetables are the main focus in most of my meals. I'll end the day with some fruit and peanut butter because I need a vessel to deliver the holy divine creation that is peanut butter into my mouth.
Earliest memory of wrestling?
I grew up watching my brothers wrestle. It took a while, but I eventually became infatuated with it. I would watch so intently and soak in everything I could, just from being a fan in the stands. I think the science of wrestling is what drew me in. The physics of it was so beautiful. It was a physical game of chess and I appreciated that as a fan and then even more so as a competitor. To this day, the mental and physically demanding nature of it is intoxicating.
Earliest memory of watching the Olympics?
My earliest memory of the Olympics is watching Michelle Kwan. I remember being taken away with how beautiful yet powerful she was. In that moment, I didn't believe I could ever be someone like her, but she and the event were incredibly inspiring. It wasn't until I saw Clarissa Chun that I realized I could do that. That I could be there. I remember I got a magazine with her face on the cover, holding flowers and her medal. it was the first time I had ever seen a female wrestler at that level. It was in that moment that I thought, "Holy cow, that could be me. I want that to be me."
Close friends with any competitors?
Japan is probably the country I have the most friends from! The Japanese women wrestlers are beyond kind and fun. I always enjoy when we are at training camps together. What is so amazing to me about being friends with women from other countries is that we can hardly speak to each other, but I feel such genuine kindness from them and enjoy our time together so much despite that.
Big obstacle that you've overcome?
Mental health and body issues have been the biggest thing I've overcome in my life, and honestly, feel I am still getting over. Through college I battled with depression and went through things that changed the course of my life dramatically. For as long as I can remember I have also dealt with body image issues and through many points in my life, an eating disorder. Going through these obstacles has no doubt made me stronger and who I am today.
How do you unwind after a competition?
I like to bake bread and sweets! Baking is my favorite way to unwind and after competition, I can indulge in a little more sweets!
Do you have any pets?
I have a cat named Layan. He is a tabby cat, but I think he might actually be a dog. Layan can sit, high five, roll over, jump on my shoulders. He runs on his giant cat wheel. He is leash trained and enjoys being outside. Layan has made it that much easier to leave training in the training room. When I come home, I don't want to be obsessing over practice or competitions. Layan helps in that so much. To come home to him always brightens my day, no matter how training went. It sounds dramatic, but he is a key part of my support system.
What would you be doing if not an athlete?
I would love to be involved in arts. There's really so much that intrigues me in this world. I would love to play violin, to sing in musicals, to bake professionally. I think I actually will pursue writing once I'm through with my athletic career.
What is on your bucket list?
I want to float in the Dead Sea!
Do you support any charities/youth orgs?
Wrestle Like a Girl. An old teammate started this amazing organization and is really growing women's wrestling and empowering young women.
Advice you'd give a young wrestler?
One would be to keep going. It is going to be so damn hard, but keep going. People are going to tell you no and that you can't, but you can. And with that said, make every day count. If I could go back and be more appreciative of the opportunities I had to train and better myself, I think a lot of my dreams would have been reached sooner.