Monday, February 18, 2013

What defines you?


I wanted to write about Lindsey’s fans or to write about Lindsey victories; instead I am forced to write about her accident, her surgery, and her recovery. 

***

I left Lindsey’s bus like I always do, right on time and got to the finish area like I always do, five minutes early.  I waited in the finish like I never have, for hours and hours.  Delay after delay. Fifteen minutes upon fifteen minutes upon fifteen minutes.  All I could think about was how cold it was and that I couldn’t imagine how much worse it was for the racers waiting and preparing, then waiting again, at the start.

I was texting Lindsey. We were planning to meet back in the bus for lunch when the race would be announced cancelled.  I walked leisurely back.  It was 1:45 with the last possible time to race at 2:30.  At 2:17 Lindsey texts me:
“Ok it looks like we are going to race.  Get my bag and go back to the finish please.”
“Get your game face on,” I say.
“ I will” Lindsey writes.  “Oh, its on!”

I wasn’t surprised at Lindsey’s enthusiasm; but considering she had been up since six in the morning and waiting around for half of the day, her reaction put me more at ease.  Sometimes, like in St. Anton, I get nervous in the finish.  Sometimes, like in Cortina, I am completely relaxed and calm.  This time, I wasn’t even thinking.  I had no expectations whatsoever.  Of course, I always want to see that time in green saying that she is in the lead, but I never had a thought of what was to happen next. 

Racers went down one by one.  The course looked rough.  I prayed for the fog to keep away.  My praying didn’t do any good.  These weren’t ideal conditions.  This course was not acceptable or safe.  I watched racers go off course, hit ruts, and racers ski blindly through the fog.  I thought whatever the problems, Lindsey just had to ski her best and hang on.  Lindsey could do it. 

There were a lot of delays on the course, making Lindsey come down at 3:15.  After waiting at the start for 4 hours she pushed off with remarkable power and energy.  She was in the lead.  She was fast.  So fast, that she flew farther off of the jump than the racers before her.  She went into a track on the course no one had skied or slipped.  Her right ski sunk into a pile of snow, stopping her speed and causing her to summersault into a gate and crash going 70 miles per hour.  Sliding down the hill she finally stopped, her cries were agonizing. 

I was in shock of what to do, of where to go.  I stick to Lindsey’s side wherever she goes.  I am with Lindsey until she has to go to the start and I meet her at the finish after the race.  I am always there to help her.  This time, I didn’t know how. I was completely lost.
I sent her a hopeless message: “Please be okay.”

After talking to the US Ski Team press agent, Doug, who said he would give me any information about Lindsey once he knew, I left the finish without a word, and not a word was spoken to me.  I went to Lindsey’s Red Bull team hotel hoping to find out where to meet up with her.  I wanted to drive to the hospital myself.  I was sick of waiting around.  After 15 minutes or so we finally were taken to the hospital to see her.  I was shocked that while I was walking through the completely white and desolate corridors of the Austrian hospital, that through the windows were photographers snapping pictures.  I was near tears and felt completely disrespected on Lindsey’s behalf.

When I saw Lindsey I couldn’t stop my tears.  I hugged her for a long time.  She was crying too, she was scared.  In less then 10 minutes her mind had been turned from a perfect winning run, into a painful, heartbreaking, reality:  her season was over. 

As an omen or a stroke of luck, Lindsey’s long-time Doctor was right there beside her.  He and the Austrian doctors went over Lindsey’s x-rays together.  It wasn’t as bad as Lindsey thought.  It wasn’t the end of her career; Vancouver wouldn’t be her last Olympics; and this wouldn’t be her last World Championships, but it was going to be a long, and tiresome road to Sochi.

There were a lot of stages of emotions in the hospital: crying because of pain, crying because the season was over, learning this isn’t going to be the end.  Medicine induced curse words, medicine induced laughing, and medicine-or-not-defiant-Lindsey.  She refused to leave the hospital in a wheelchair and she refused to stay in a hotel the first night.  We finally got her to stay at the team hotel that night. 

She was nauseas the first night because of the pain medication and also because she hadn’t eaten since breakfast that day.  Everyone was coming and going, and there were phone calls, plans for the next days and weeks being made.  It was a blur.  It took a few days of solitude in the bus for the reality to really sink in.

On the morning we left, while I was packing up the car, Lindsey sat watching the women’s race on TV go on without her.  She cheered for her teammates and her friends, but I think that getting into the car and driving away from her life, going to Vail for surgery, took all of her strength. 

After a lot of talking and consulting, Lindsey and Dr. Sterett found the best plan for her surgery. Family members and friends were crowded around her hospital bed, there to support her.  She was nervous and having them there helped keep her mind at ease.  Everything went as well as could be expected and she woke up from surgery groggy but happy it was finally over.

It only took a day after the surgery for Lindsey to go to the gym.  You can’t keep her sitting still for long.  That’s Lindsey.  I told her this was karma telling her to relax finally, but she rolled her eyes at me.

Being an athlete is a very fragile profession.  You may not be good enough, you may not be strong enough, and the conditions may not be safe enough.  Athletes are tightrope walkers and there aren’t any nets.  Falling is part of the game, and getting up is what defines you.  Lindsey might not have two legs to walk on yet, but she has her fans, family, and friends to support her until she can. 

Thanks to all of you for your well wishes and support through Lindsey’s recovery. 

Best,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Navigation


  When the elevation gets into the thousands and you're on top of a peak in Austria, the weather can't always be predictable.  That means skiers have to be flexible.  They have to be able to find the good snow.
   I picked Lindsey up in Munich and we drove to our hotel outside of Innsbruck.  We got in that night around 9:30, ate dinner, and  went to bed because it was business as usual in the morning; Lindsey was training with the men's Austrian Ski Team.  She woke me up after her workout at around 7:30am and we had breakfast together.  The weather was supposed to be good for the day but for the rest of the week we wouldn't be so lucky.  The day after we woke up to rain- in January, and in the mountains- yep, not so lucky.  It was wet and the snow was soft, making it hard to ski, and Lindsey fell a few times.  We needed a new plan for Lindsey's training so Lindsey's coach, Jeff Fergus-we all call him "Ferg-" decided to go where there was perfect snow and sunshine- Italy!  The Dolomites are one of my favorite places to ski in Europe so I was excited to get out of the usual routine.  But what I didn't realize was how difficult that was to do, and also, how difficult it would have been for Lindsey to even establish a routine.
    I have been traveling with Lindsey for around six months now, I haven't been to every race on the circuit but I'm getting close.  I am learning who everyone is, how things work, what to do and what not to do.  Before Lindsey picked me up in Germany last January, I had never flew on a plane by myself, let alone an international plane.  I had no idea what I was doing. None.  I thought I knew how to ski since I had been skiing since I was two, but I was wrong.
    The first time I was on the hill with her I got lost and took the gondola all the way up to the top of the mountain instead of to the bottom and I nearly missed her training run.  I'll save the story of when I tried to pass Lindsey skiing for another post.  The fact of the matter is that skiing is it's own world.  And navigating through it takes time.
    Lindsey has been doing it forever, she makes it look easy.  And that's what I thought: "this is so easy for Lindsey. Why is it so hard for me?"  And Lindsey probably doesn't like to admit it but every once in awhile she'll give you a story that makes you realize she's not immortal, that she had her hard times, too.  For example, I don't like the palma lift.  I have had bad experiences.  Lindsey always laughs at me. But then she told me about her bad experience with the palma lift.  She was 9 and racing in Europe by herself for the first time.  She was trying her best to fit in and act cool.  But that day while training, it was really wet and she had a baggy rain coat on.  She told me she got all the way to the top and when she pulled the palma away, her coat got caught.  She got dragged all the way around until the emergency stop.  Lindsey was mortified.  As frightening as that story would be to have happen to you, I appreciated her telling it to me- I'm probably more afraid of those lifts now than ever- but it made Lindsey more human than hero.  And it's important to realize that she is only human.

    So we were ready to go to Italy for training.  We have a car full of stuff so it's important that Lindsey know how to pack up the car, that's why Lindsey calls it: "playing Tetris."  While she was doing that, I uploaded some new music and we were off.  We plugged in our destination on the navigation system and we would be in Italy in three hours.  
    Driving in Europe, on the Autobahn or the Autostrada, is not so hard.  You have to pay very close attention and you have to know the language.  When you're in the left lane and someone is coming up behind you with their left blinker on, that means "I am going faster that you are, so you'd better get out of my way," but if someone comes up behind you flashing their brights, that message is a bit more impolite.  That means "how could you not seem me coming up on you so fast, I am not going to stop for you so you'd better move!" 
     The real hard part is when you get off the highway.  We got to the town we were supposed to be in but didn't know the address of our hotel and the navigation didn't have the name of the hotel programmed, either.  It was already dark and hard to see.  We kept on making wrong turns and Ferg isn't exactly the greatest person to call for directions.  Finally we were getting closer but still couldn't find it so we tried to call for directions again but when I went to dial, no service. And no internet i.e..no google maps. 
Europe doesn't have street names on every corner, it doesn't have big, lighted signs.  It has confusing roundabouts and small, unmarked roads.  Even having the navigation system doesn't always help.  I told Lindsey (who was quite frustrated being lost,)
    "think about having to use an actual map through these smalls roads!"
     "Uh yeah," Lindsey said, "I had to.  And we didn't have cell phones, either.  I had to either navigate us on a map or be the one to drive.  I don't know how many times we showed up to the wrong town or hotel.  I would come straight off the plane jet-lagged and have to drive 4 or 5 hours.  Then, would get to the place finally and realize that I was in San Anton, Switzerland, not St. Anton, Austria.  It sucked!"
    "When did you get your first Audi?" I asked. " I traveled with the technicians in loaded up cargo vans for a long, long time.  It wasn't until I became good that I was able to be sponsored by Audi myself."
      It never even occurred to me that Lindsey had anything other than a sick Audi with navigation that would get you anywhere.  Lindsey was once new to Europe, as I am now, and she had to navigate through it, as I am now, and she had to find her own way, as I will.  With or without an actual map. 

All for now, 
St. Anton this weekend- get excited! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Glass Island


December 10, 2012

Hello friends, family and fans,
Back on the road!
I took a train for Firenze to Milano, Milano to Tirano, and Tirano via the Bernino Express, snaking through the Alps, climbing into the exceptionally beautiful and glamorous Swiss town of St. Moritz.

It was a long weekend for me.  I need to get back into the swing of things again.  Because everything in Lindsey’s life is fast- I have to keep up!  We finished in St. Moritz on Monday night around 8.  Lindsey was filming for a new beauty commercial that took all day.  That morning when we were shooting on the top of the mountain I watched Lindsey do take after take with a smile on her face for the cameras.  It was snowing and cold and Lindsey was wearing only her speed suit.  Finally, when she was done with the scene we hurried back inside the lodge and I asked Lindsey:
 “Would you rather have a regular job?”  Lindsey answered “Sometimes I think it would be nice having the same schedule, 9-5, everyday.  And then I realize I could never do that.  It would get too boring!”

I thought back to the weekend and couldn’t decide if a regular job would be easier or more difficult.  If every talented athlete can be at the top, or if it takes a different kind of dedication- and even then, how long will they last?

Lindsey picked me up Thursday night at the train station.  I hadn’t seen Lindsey’s new bus yet and was excited to get my own bedroom. It’s like a tiny apartment on wheels.  It even has a little espresso machine!  I tested out the kitchen and made Lindsey dinner while she got ready for the combined the next morning.  We went to bed early and Lindsey woke me up after her workout at 7:20 the next morning.  Getting on the course for inspection at 8:15.

When you are that high up on the mountain the temperature is one thing, burning your fingers and toes until they become numb.  But the wind is what exhausts you.  The wind cuts your cheeks and bites the parts of your ears that aren’t covered. 
I have to quit and go inside early, mostly because I can quit.  Lindsey can’t, however, and she stays out there inspecting and taking warming up runs until the race starts.  Just because she’s a skier doesn’t mean she’s immune to the below freezing temperatures.  She’s used to frostbite, it’s all part of her job.

Lindsey had a good finish on the first run of the Super Combined but skied out in the Slalom.   Lindsey wasn’t too happy, but Slalom isn’t her strong suit so we were all hopeful for the Super G the next day.
Saturday the light on the hill was better and Lindsey seemed tired but ready.  Super G is only one run so Lindsey could really put all of her energy into it, instead of having two runs and risking fatigue.   I waited in the finish counting down the racers, dancing to shake the cold.  Finally Lindsey came down, and she came down faster then the rest.
Being with Lindsey for this much time you get to see the good days and the bad days.  Saturday was the day you want to be there for- a day of relief.  Of hard work paid off.  Of coaches hugging and the sound of our National Anthem.  It is a joy to be there on those days, but you don’t always get them, and that’s okay.  Sometimes you get mediocre days, and that’s what happened on Sunday.  Lindsey skied into 5th for the first run of the Giant Slalom.  Her energy wasn’t all there for the second run, however.  She skied fast but couldn’t gather enough strength to compensate a mistake, as she usually does, and skied out. But she gave it everything she had. 

It’s hard for me to evaluate the job of my sister.  I have worked at department stores, at a parking garage, as a babysitter.  I have worked with my father in an office starting at 8:30 and getting home around 7 to make dinner.  I have been there for my mother, wishing her luck on her finals when she went back to college for a different degree.  I helped my brothers going from job to job as landscapers, ski instructors, working at FedEx or hotels.  My other sister worked her way up after graduating, from intern to intern, and is finally regional marketing manager for a big-time company.  I have learned that a professional is a professional for a reason.  It’s not luck or kissing ass.  It’s talent and dedication. 
I went to Murano, “the glass island” in Venice, where they specialize in glass blowing.  They apprentice for 15 years before they can become a professional, but the real glass artists are the masters that show true talent.  The others sculptors just work for the artists to create their ideas.  They could apprentice their whole like and work to become the next famous artist, but if they don’t have the talent, they’re no one.
Lindsey is that famous artist.  The one that worked their whole life with that magic talent with the drive to be the best and the skill to stay on top. 
She made that entire crew shooting the commercial laugh and at ease throughout a long and tiresome day of shooting.  She deals with the media on good days and bad days, along with posing for pictures with fans.   She is a skier, but she is a professional and this is her job.  It may be glamorous or it may be a pain in the ass. 

Do what you love to do, do it with heart through the good days, the mediocre days, and the bad days- but never let yourself be bored with what you do.

We are now in Val’isere for the Downhill and Super G.  I hope you will all be watching and cheering Lindsey on!
Ciao tutti,

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"How Do You Feel About Racing with the Men?"

October 27,2012: First race of the season.

Hello friends,family, and fans,
    My name is Laura Kildow. 22 year old aspiring writer, taking a year off from my school at the University of Iowa to travel around the world. My sister, Lindsey Vonn, is showing me the ropes. She is one of my best friends, an expert traveller and, of course, the fastest skier on the planet!I want everyone to know all about the ups and downs of being a world class athlete. I get all the access, updates, and Lindsey Vonn info you could ever want or need. I'll be by her side throughout the season. She calls me her mini me!
    Right now we are listening to Rascal Flatts "A Little Home" while Lindsey packs, I type. This weekend has been a roller coaster. When I arrived to the hotel, after traveling on a train for 7 hours, I had 10 minutes to get ready for dinner at 7:30.
  "Wait Lindsey...I have a question for you: how to you feel about racing with the men?" Lindsey said at dinner, quoting the reporters. "Lindsey, one more question... How do you feel about racing with the men?" She laughed along with her trainer and physiotherapist, Hagi and Ricky. "Oh wait, Lndsey, and how do you feel about racing with the men?" Lindsey repeated again, rolling her eyes. She makes a joke out of the media attacking her for her recent announcement about racing with the men in Lake Louis but it isn't fun and it's very stressful.
    Right away after dinner we went to bed. Lindsey had to get up at 6:30 to free-ski on the race hill. After, it was lunch, a short nap, and getting ready for some more media! We went to the Overall FIS forum with Marcel Herscher. "Oh and Lindsey, I have a question for you: how do you feel about racing with the men" I laughed to myself as Lindsey answered as if it was her first time answering. Her answers to this question are all honest and it makes me mad to think that people think this is a media stunt. Does the media really know her? I do, and I'll tell you that that is Lindsey being Lindsey. Write whatever you want about her because she is going to do what she wants. Was it a media stunt when she won a cow? She could have won money, but she wanted that cow. And she still visits Olym on her farm including a goat named after me! It would be far easier for Lindsey to stay out of the press and to not keep answering the same damn question thirty dozen times. That's just Lindsey. She wants to push her limits. She wants to set records and to make a difference for her sport. The public can criticize her, but I think it's awesome. I wouldn't expect anything less from Lindsey.
   So this weekend finished with Lindsey with a bandaged left arm.   The first run Lindsey came down strong but not fast enough. The second run was delayed first until 1:15 and then until 1:45. The fog on the course made it impossible to see even 5 gates ahead. Finally, the forerunners came down the hill. The fog on the hill had cleared up and they sent down the first racer. Immediately after the first racer has finished, the fog swept across the race course. Still, they kept sending down racers. Lindsey, coming down 19th, had limited visibility but was up six tenth on the first split. Standing in the finish is much more nerving than watching it on tv. I just want her to finish happy and without injury. So when she clipped her hand on a gate and skied out onto the side lines holding her wrist, I hoped she was okay. Of course Lindsey was, she has a high tolerance for pain. She always gets back up after she falls. Nevertheless, it could be a broken hand and she still carried my skis for me to the car whilst signing autographs and posing for pictures.
   Today I am going to the train station in Innsbruck, and Lindsey to the airport. When she goes home she will get her wrist looked at.
 With Lindsey, there's always something!
Until next time.
Yours,
Laura Kildow Aka Schwesty ( German for Schwester: Sister)

lauradownhillblog@gmail.com