LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Lindsey Vonn may be the only name that appears when looking up “most-decorated female alpine skier,” but she didn’t get there alone. Vonn reached the top of her sport thanks to those around her and the advice she received along the way.
Now that she has 76 world cup wins, six world championship medals and two Olympic medals – and counting – to her name, Vonn chooses to dedicate much of her time to giving back and helping inspire and encourage the next generation of champions.
Realizing the importance of sharing her experiences, Vonn spent Monday in Lillehammer, Norway, serving in her role as Youth Olympic Games Ambassador, which she reprised from the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012. Her day was spent in the Youth Olympic Village meeting with athletes from several countries, answering questions and imparting her wisdom.
Here are six pieces of advice Vonn shared:
1. Find A Hero
Vonn realized very early in her career the value of a hero.
Growing up in Vail, Colorado, and learning to ski at age 2, she paid attention to all things ski racing – and, for Vonn, that meant falling in love with Picabo Street. While Vonn was developing her own skills, Street was dominating on the national and international circuits, providing Vonn with a role model to look up to and aspire to be like.
“She was kind of a larger-than-life superhero to me,” Vonn said.
The budding alpine racer was able to meet her idol at an autograph signing when she was 9. As fate would have it, their paths would overlap when they ended up on the U.S. Ski Team for one season together leading into the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, where Vonn competed at age 17 and Street at 30.
To this day, Street is still a mentor – and friend – to Vonn.
“She was just very charismatic,” Vonn said of Street. “She made me believe that I could do what she does. Before I met her, I never really thought of ski racing as a profession. I never thought that I could be in the Olympics.”
2. Trust Your Instincts
Vonn has received an ample amount of advice from the people she’s surrounded herself with throughout her nearly 30-year career in the sport.
The greatest one?
Trust your instincts.
“Everyone has a different style,” she said. “Everyone competes differently, has different motivations and different routines. There’s no right or wrong way. You just have to trust yourself and trust your instincts.”
Vonn’s trust in her instincts has led to countless right moves in all aspects of her life, from partnering up with sponsors that were the best fit for her brand to launching the Lindsey Vonn foundation last year to empower young women.
And trusting her instincts on the hill is what led Vonn to becoming the winningest women’s alpine skier of all time.
3. Diligence Is Key
Vonn knows a thing or two about injuries. At her second Olympic Winter Games, the then-21-year-old crashed in a training run for the downhill race and was evacuated by helicopter. Two days later, she opted to compete and finished eighth.
Heading into the Vancouver 2010 Games, she was suffered from a bruised shin. Despite the pain, she became a star of the Games, winning gold in the downhill and bronze in super-G.
Her worst injuries came in February and November of 2013. At the world championships, she crashed in the super-G and tore her ACL and MCL in her right knee. In preparation for her comeback nine months later, she tore her right ACL in a training run crash. Since recovering, she has won more world cup titles than any other female skier.
Suffice it to say she has plenty of advice to offer when it comes to recovering from an injury, and that advice amounts to being diligent.
“Make sure you have good people around you, and be very diligent about your program,” Vonn said. “You have to stick to it and you can’t cut corners, otherwise you’re just going to open yourself up to re-injury.”
4. Use Your Personal Life To Fuel Your Performance
It’s no secret that Lindsey Vonn has had her fair share of ups and downs both on and off the slopes.
Whether it’s a breakup, a new romance, a falling out with a relative or cutting her thumb while breaking up a dog fight, Vonn’s personal life has been anything but boring, and – thanks to her success and fame – it has all played out in the media.
Despite whatever is happening that week in her personal relationships, she still manages to dominate when it comes time to race.
“I don’t think there’s ever really a way to truly block out what’s going on around you when you’re competing in your sport,” she said.
So, what’s her advice for separating the two? Don’t separate it; embrace it.
“The one thing I would say is try to use your life as a means to become a stronger person and use it as fuel. Your frustrations or setbacks or whatever’s going on in your life can be used in a positive way. It’s just how you perceive it in your mind.”
5. Soak In The YOG Experience
Having served as an ambassador for the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, Vonn has seen firsthand everything the YOG have to offer and just how beneficial it can be to the athletes competing this week.
“I think the biggest part of the Youth Olympics is to have the experience and to learn about the culture and learn how to compete at a big Games,” said Vonn, who was 17 when she competed at her first Olympics and wished she had the Youth Olympics to learn from first.
“I’m hopefully helping answer some of the questions and a lot of them have never been to this type of competition before.”
Her wish is that every Youth Olympian makes the most of their experience and absorbs everything that the Games have to offer, from the competitive aspect to the Learn & Share program. When all is said and done, she hopes the 1,100 Youth Olympians leaves Norway embodying the ideals of Olympism.
“I think the biggest thing is the cultural experience and meeting new people and just sharing the Olympic spirit,” she said. “That’s the greatest thing about the Olympics is what it stands for, and if these kids can learn that and go home and share that with their friends and family, that’s the best part about what they’re doing here.”
6. Get A Dog
Yes, it’s that simple.
Already with two rescue dogs at home in the U.S., Vonn acquired a third dog, Lucy, while on the world cup tour last month in Italy. Since she spends so many months traveling and competing, she said she needed a furry companion by her side to cure her loneliness.
“It’s hard to be on the road and it’s hard to always be in a hotel,” Vonn said. “She’s kind of brought a piece of home on the road with me. It’s a mental refresher.”
It seems the King Charles Cavalier has helped her skiing as well, since Vonn has racked up three more victories since meeting Lucy.