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Five Minutes with Paris Henken: College Student and Olympic Athlete

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with College of Charleston sailor and Olympic Athlete Paris Henken. We chatted about her time time leading up to the 2016 Olympics and what it was like competing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Check her out, collegiettes!

Name: Paris Henken

Hometown: Coronado, California

Olympic Sport: Sailing

Year: Sophomore

Maura: Tell us a little bit of your background with sailing, and how you decided to do an Olympic campaign:

Paris: “Well, I started sailing when I was 6. I grew up playing other sports as well, but eventually I stopped playing them and stuck with sailing. I’m not sure why I chose sailing, I just did. When I was in high school I started competitively sailing. At the time a lot of my peers were transitioning into a boat called the Club 420. However, I transitioned into the 29er because that was what my brothers were sailing at the time. I sailed the 29er for five years and during that time period a boat called the 49er FX started developing. When I was a junior in high school, I knew a lot of the people on the US Sailing team that were trying to recruit people for the games. They asked me one weekend if I wanted to go to Miami, and so Helena, my partner and I went and tried out. That’s when [the Olympic campaign] started”

M: Was it hard to balance being a college student and an Olympian?

P: “I had to take a year and a half off from school. I did one online class spring of 2015 and that was basically all the load that I could do.”

M: What was your year like leading up to the games?

P: “My partner, Helena and I qualified [for the Olympics] at the end of February, 2016. Before we qualified we spent the year training to qualify for the games, and sailing a lot of events internationally. From May until the games started, we spent two and a half weeks every month in Rio training.”

M: What was it like walking in the opening ceremonies?

P: “Michael Phelps was our flag-bearer, and seeing him in the flesh was cool. There was a fight to get in the front of the line. Everyone was linking arms and you had to make a move right at the beginning to get to the front. People were back to back and had to shuffle because everyone was so close together. It’s really hard to describe what is was like to walk, because it was such an amazing experience. We got to mingle with a lot of other countries and get a glimpse of their cultures. For example, African countries were so different from the U.S. with their clothing. We had our Ralph Lauren suits and they were dressed so traditionally. All of the Syrians were super friendly and wanted to talk to all of us and trade pins, which was pretty cool.”

M: What is the village really like?

P: “It is basically an apartment complex. There were 26 buildings and every country was assigned to different buildings. For example, the U.S. had its own building because there were so many of us. The Latin countries shared a building because they didn’t have as many people. Each building had a different flag hung on the outside of it, which was cool because you could see where everyone was staying. The U.S. wasn’t allowed to have a flag on our building because people were afraid the building would be bombed. Inside of our building was a huge cafeteria the size of two football fields. The food was okay; it was the same thing everyday. Towards the ends of the games people got more rowdy, on the last night they had a really big party for all the Olympians.”

M: What were the best part of the games?

P: “I loved the opening ceremony. The actual racing, was also amazing and that was what I was there to do. I also really liked the village, and the closing ceremonies.”

Great job, Paris!  All of College of Charleston is so proud of you! HCXO


Maura Lonergan is currently a Freshman at the College of Charleston. Born in Singapore and then living in Hong Kong, she loves to travel and is looking forward to going abroad. She is a student athlete majoring in Business. Her work background consists of summers coaching sailing, and two movie marketing internships with MTV and Paramount Pictures. Her love of creative writing and being involved with such a great company lead Maura to be a Her Campus High School Ambassador, and she is excited to continue to work with Her Campus throughout her college experience! 
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