Sarah Blesener was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She studied Linguistics and Youth Development at North Central University. While at university, she worked as a photographer for the organization Healing Haiti based in Port au Prince, Haiti, covering events surrounding the 2010 earthquake. Upon graduation in 2012, she studied at Bookvar Russian Academy in Minneapolis, concentrating on the Russian language. She is a recent graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York. Her latest work revolves around issues of youth culture and movements, focusing on Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States.

All of the candidates were amazingly talented and driven. It was a tough decision. Sarah stood out for the review committee here largely because of the uniqueness of her story proposal and how well it fit into some other areas of coverage we have in the works. None of us had ever heard of these nationalist youth programs and camps and we simply were dying to know [was] clear she had the moxie and organization to pull it off. On top of that, her photography from patriotic camps in Russia was spectacular.
— Amy Pyle, REVEAL from The Center for Investigative Reporting