Hendrix Senior Returns from Sochi

Jennifer Koller at Sochi

CONWAY, Ark. (February 24, 2014) – Hendrix student Jennifer Koller returned from the 2014 Winter Olympics without a medal. But she was a lot closer than many in the crowd at Sochi.

A native of Woodbury, Conn., Koller was a competitive luge athlete for 10 years. She was 7 years old when she first got on a sled. Three years later, she joined the USA Olympic National Development Program, which was preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Koller says she had the strength but not the height for Olympic competition, so she focused her attention on field hockey, the sport that brought her to Hendrix.

“When I visited Hendrix, I just fell in love with everything here,” says Koller, a psychology major and kinesiology minor. She hopes to get a master’s degree in sports psychology but is currently looking at field hockey coaching opportunities after graduation.

Though she wasn’t competing at Sochi, Koller says she was happy she went to support her friends and former luge teammates.

“I figured if I wasn’t going to be in it, I might as well be there,” she says.

Koller originally considered making her Olympic journey into an Odyssey project but decided to “enjoy it for what it was.” 

Despite 15 hours of travel to Russia and 43 hours on the way back (including a 12-hour layover in Moscow), “everything went extremely smoothly,” she says.

“I honestly forgot I was in Russia unless heard people talking,” says Koller. “At the luge track, it just felt normal, but there was more security with three to six policemen posted in and out of events, plus 30,000 volunteers.”

In Sochi, Koller saw seven Olympic events in a week, including the women’s slope-style snowboarding competition, the USA men’s hockey game against Slovakia, and three luge medal rounds.

Talking to former teammates she hadn’t seen in five years was “way more emotional” than she expected, but it wasn’t bittersweet, she says.

“Those 10 years I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she says. “It gave me new perspective on my motivation and dedication as an athlete and helped me become a lot more independent.”

When Koller left competitive luge competition, she applied that work ethic to field hockey, which she had played since the sixth grade. For the past two summers, Koller has traveled to Barbados and Scotland as a member of USA Athletes International (USAAI), which sponsors exhibition matches with NCAA Division II and Division III athletes.

This summer, she will travel to Australia with USAAI.

As a sophomore at Hendrix, she started throwing hammer for the track and field program.

“That definitely evened things out, because I got a stronger sense of competing in an individualized sport,” she says. “You have to take a whole new sense of responsibility, which is hard to acquire in a team sport.”

Koller says she has no regrets about going to college rather than Olympic competition.

“I definitely didn’t miss out on the college experience,” says Koller, who says her Hendrix friends and field hockey teammates are a tight-knit community similar to the camaraderie among athletes at the Olympic Training Center. “And I’m glad that having the college experience was here at Hendrix.”