Friday, March 4, 2005

Benson never hedges

Sunset captain leads her team into hometown tournament

Express Staff Writer

Sara Benson

When it comes to being driven, Sarah Benson has no need for Morgan Freeman. She is completely self-propelled.

The petite, 35-year old brunette juggles motherhood, marriage, business ownership and athletics with the aplomb, skill and finesse of a brain surgeon. Ants feel tired just looking at her.

When asked where she gets her drive she points to her parents, Butch and Nancy, as her role models.

"I think they instilled in me a very hard work ethic. They encouraged me to try and do a lot of different things whether I succeeded or failed," she said.

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Benson, formerly Sarah Farlee, spent her summers in Sun Valley with her grandparents.

Benson recounted, "My grandfather worked for the railroad. When Union Pacific owned Sun Valley it was a really inexpensive vacation to hop on the train and come out here.

"I started coming out when I was three and we would spend a couple months each summer. I remember fishing a lot with my grandfather, and I made some really good lifelong friends that I still keep in touch with."

Benson also began figure skating and dance lessons (tap, ballet and toe) at age four, setting the foundation for the grace and expertise she now displays as a defender on the Sun Valley Sunsets women's hockey team.

After graduating from Centre College in Danville, Ky., Benson moved to Sun Valley in 1991.

"A, because I didn't have a job, and, B, because I wanted to learn how to ski," she said.

Benson got a job as a cocktail waitress at the Duchin Room in Sun Valley and remained with the company for eight years. Five years ago, she became the owner of Solutions in Hailey, which is a recruiting firm for high tech industries.

For the past eight years, Sarah has been married to Chris Benson, the coach of the Sun Valley Suns hockey team, and the couple has two children. Daughter, Morgan, turns four next month, and son, Zachary, is five months old.

In the 14 years she has lived in the Wood River, Benson has always been part of a team. From the Cheers and Color Haus coed softball teams, to the Lefty's women's softball squad to the Sunsets hockey team, Benson is out of the Cal Ripken Jr. mold: a gifted athlete, supportive teammate and natural leader.

Benson took time out from her busy schedule to chat on Wednesday.

JZ: What is your background in sports?

SB: I have always played sports. I started field hockey in the fourth grade and figure skating when I was four. I grew up playing field hockey, basketball and softball.

JZ: What is your favorite sport?

SB: I would say at this stage in my life it is probably hockey.

JZ: How did you get interested in hockey?

SB: When Chris and I started dating. I practiced for a year so I would not embarrass him. I played noon hockey and skated on the outdoor rink by myself. Then I started skating with the Sunsets. It was easy for me to get used to because of field hockey and figure skating. Although no toe pick on the skates was tough at first. Also in field hockey you only used one side of your stick and you had to face your opponent squarely. You couldn't turn your back to them. When people would do that to me in hockey, I would be like, hey, you can't do that.

JZ: You are such a dichotomy, so feminine, but so tough. Do you think the two are mutually exclusive?

SB: No, I don't think so, not at all. It's good to be a well-rounded individual and have both of those attributes.

JZ: As a Southerner, are there tenets and codes you hang on to that are not evident in other parts of the country?

SB: Yes. I think that knowing when to be soft spoken and when to be direct are good southern qualities that I try to hang on to. Being respectful in all elements of life. I don't know if it's a southern thing or just my age, but I will attribute it to being southern.

JZ: Where did you meet Fester (Chris Benson)?

SB: At Whiskeys (laughs). I knew Tony (his brother) better because Chris didn't talk. He took my sister on a date when she was in her first year of college. He showed up to pick her up and I thought, 'Whoa, who's the guy with the moustache taking out my baby sister?' It is kind of ironic we ended up getting married. I got to know him from softball and just around. One night at Whiskey's he said, Hi.

JZ: What makes your marriage with Chris work?

SB: I think we have a good balance of things that we both enjoy together, but respect each other enough to have our own likes. We can play hockey together and he can go out and play with the Suns and have some guy time. There are things we all enjoy together as a family, whether at the hockey rink or the softball field.

JZ: How do you strike a balance between all the things you do?

SB: It's a constant work in progress.

JZ: What are your priorities?

SB: My priorities are definitely finding a good balance for my children and work and extra curricular activities. I think, at least for me, you have to have all those things in your life to be a good parent. I think if I had to cut one of those out, like hockey, which is my release, it would definitely affect my work life and home life. I try to schedule my time well.

JZ: What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

SB: I love to go to the spa and have a massage.

JZ: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

SB: I would say red wine. I love red wine, now that I can drink again. At the spa with my red wine qualifies.

JZ: What would people be surprised to know about you?

SB: That I am actually a very quiet person.

JZ: Quieter than Fester?

SB: It's a race there. That I am really quiet and probably that I took ballet. Probably that I was an ice dancer. I took skating lessons during the summers and ice dancing tests. I was in the Sun Valley Ice Shows. It was fun.

JZ: What qualities make you a good leader?

SB: I think the ability to lead by example and be a bit of a mediator in tough situations. And I just think whether in work or athletics people can count on me to get the job done. I execute and lead by example.

JZ: What do you like about being captain of the Sunsets?

SB: Basically, I liked to be relied on by my teammates. I like having the responsibility of being a leader on and off the ice and dealing with women who have a lot going on in their lives. I like making their lives easier so they can show up, skate, and have a good time.

JZ: How do you think you will do this weekend?

SB: I actually think we will do really well. We need to get even with Jackson. They have a couple of new players. One new gal played for the University of Connecticut. We did a pretty good job against her before. But we need to focus on her and step up our game a little bit. But we can do it. We're ready.

JZ: Is there anything tougher than being a mom?

SB: No. It's definitely the hardest job and the most rewarding and I wouldn't change a thing. But it is tough. Until you do it, you can't tell anyone what it is like. But you see your friends getting through it and you think, 'I can do it'. But you have to rely on the help of your friends.

JZ: If you could make any dream of your come true what would it be?

SB: Besides winning the lottery? If I could insure that my kids could be healthy and happy and grow up to be good people that is what it would be. Really that is all I want. If you had asked me that 10 years ago, the answer would have been different, but that is all I want now.

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