Maggie Voisin poses for a portrait at the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Sept. 26, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Maggie Voisin could see what she thought was a crack on the X-ray screen next to her, but she didn’t want to think about it. It was, after all, one of her first days in Sochi at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
She had just turned 15 years old and the slopestyle skier was the youngest member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team.
But before she could compete, her Olympic dream was shattered – due to a broken ankle.
“I crashed,” Voisin, now 19, told TeamUSA.org in a recent interview. “It was a fluke thing. The easiest way to explain it is I ran into the rail. … I realized after a little bit of walking up and down the side of the course, I was like, ‘Something doesn’t feel right.’ I of course found out that I had fractured my ankle and that there was no way I was going to compete. It was definitely heartbreaking.”
Four years later Voisin, a Montana native, is headed back to the Olympics. At 19 she still registers as one of the younger athletes on Team USA (the 12th youngest, to be exact), but she’s four years removed from that nightmare day in Russia and the frustration that followed: A freak accident that left a lasting impact on one of the best female freestyle skiers in the world.
“I think at 15 I felt like, ‘Nothing can break me,’” Voisin admitted, breaking into a I’ve-been-there smile. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in the last four years and I think that’s made me the athlete I am today. It’s made me even stronger. I’m feeling good and healthy going into Korea.”
Voisin also felt good going into her first event in the fall of 2014 after her frustrating Olympic false start. She was competing at Dew Tour and it was meant to be her first outing since that Sochi accident. Instead, she tore her ACL and missed the entire 2014-15 season because of it.
It was another bump in a series for Voisin, who had to step away from training to re-evaluate her goals and expectations at that point, out for an entire year after missing the chance to compete at the Winter Games.
“I’ve learned so much about myself as a person and as an athlete,” she said of the three years since. “I’ve learned to take care of myself, to be in the gym… I’m not invincible. I’ve also learned that you have to take the positive out of every situation.”
Things have looked very positive the last two seasons for Voisin. She’s finished in the top 10 in the FIS World Cup standings in both 2016 (6th) and 2017 (9th). She was second at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang in February 2016, and won the first Olympic qualifier in February 2017. Voisin was fourth at the second Olympic qualifier – December’s Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado – but then placed second at both the third and fourth selection events earlier this month in Snowmass, Colorado, securing her spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
Then, after the team was named, Voisin won at X Games Aspen, becoming the first American woman to win slopestyle gold.
It’s a vastly different run-up to the Games compared to the 2013-14 year, when Voisin was a rookie on the circuit and a surprise Olympic qualifier.
“Going into an Olympics at 15 was pretty overwhelming,” the 19-year-old explained. “I haven’t just dipped my toes [at this point], now I know what to expect. I know I’m still young, but I’m going in with a level head. I want to have that same mentality I went into Sochi with: I’m not putting too much pressure or expectation on myself and just trying to ski my best. We do this because we love this; we’re a small community.”
Voisin grew up as part of a ski-mad family in Whitefish, Montana, a Rocky Mountain town of 7,000 on the edge of Glacier National Park. Her dad, Truby, is a “typical Whitefish ski bum,” as she puts it, and Maggie says she was “born to be a skier.”
By age 2 or 3 she was on skis alongside twin brother Tucker, trying to keep up with their two older siblings, Kelsey and Michael. The family still skis together when Voisin comes home from her training base in Park City, Utah, though it’s a little less hectic than when Maggie and Tucker were just toddlers, trying to learn the ropes of the ski hill.
Her parents arrived in Sochi on the day of her crash in 2014, Voisin in a way still in shock as to what had just happened. She stayed for the Opening Ceremony that night and for most of the Games, walking with crutches but taking in as much as she could, including competition at bobsled and hockey.
She wasn’t sure if she would ever have the chance to be at another Olympics – either as an athlete or as a spectator.
“I didn’t know if I was ever going to get another opportunity like that, so I wanted to take advantage of that,” Voisin said, laughing at her struggle to get around with her crutches. “I was just so grateful to be there.”
In the last four years, the sport has only become bigger and bigger for females and Voisin has had to push herself to raise her game because of it. She’s tried not to let what happened that day in Russia haunt her or overwhelm new goals, but it’s impossible for her not to think about it at all, either.
Just the thought of going to another Olympics – and getting the chance to compete – gives her chills.
“It makes me emotional as I think about (PyeongChang),” she said. “And it’s intense thinking about what happened in Sochi. I’ve thought about making it back again... I’ve worked so hard over the last four years for this. To have that all come together, I have no words for that. Every athlete has been through their own roller coaster, but my story…”
Voisin isn’t sure how to finish such a thought, but perhaps mostly because she isn’t sure how her story ends. At least not yet.
She’s no longer a kid, no longer carefree and no longer taking anything for granted that is in front of her. She promises to be careful on her training runs in South Korea, too. Can you blame her?
“I’ve been through a lot. Four years is short, but my first year, qualifying for Sochi, I was a rookie and didn’t know the scene at all,” she said. “I know what to expect this time. I’m doing what I love and it’s crazy. I can’t complain.”
And she’s still only 19.