Monday, December 9, 2013

Lindsey [Vonn]

Hearing the news about Lindsey was definitely nerve-racking.  We were all relaying messages we heard from Lindsey of her condition.  And while we waited for the doctors results of how severe the damage was of her most recent crash, I didn’t care about her racing, I was just happy she could walk.  The doctors concluded it was a fifty-percent tear in her ACL, which wasn’t the worst case scenario but Lindsey starting the season in Beaver Creek was out of the question.
My family got together in Vail at Bōl for some bowling.  I was selfishly glad for this time to be together.  We calculated that it’s been 11 years since all of us have been in the same place at the same time.  It was nice that Lindsey could relax with us finally.
 Lindsey is an annoyingly good bowler.  Everyone should have been mad that she beat us all by at least a hundred points, but we couldn’t be.  She shows the same concentration and determination in bowling as she does with skiing.  She tries so hard to do her best that you know she deserves it.  Then there is the way she wins.  She doesn’t rub it in your face but has an inward smile of accomplishment.  She doesn’t try to win for anyone else, she does it for herself.
I missed being there at the races with Lindsey but while I watched the girls come down Birds of Prey I realized how much a sport needs a Lindsey Vonn.  Sports need someone who isn’t just a great athlete, but a great person.  Someone who turns the sport around, who makes it their own.  That’s what Lindsey has done for her sport.  She inspired others.
To continuously have a run of bad luck with injuries is beyond exhausting.  Throw out all her globes and medals and just count the times she’s picked herself up starting from zero.  It shows amazing strength and character.
                When I think about her career I remember all the things she’s done that have captured our attention.  Most memorably, the time she won a cow.  It sounds odd writing that, and I’m sure it did to all the reporters and all the readers.  Recently I read an article that asked Lindsey how she felt after her injury and she just answered with “I was pissed.”  I don’t know if it makes it funnier because I know that’s her honest answer or if it’s less funny to a person that doesn’t.  I don’t know if flipping through the tabloids in the grocery isle and seeing a picture of Lindsey putting a squirrel on her boyfriend’s shoulder is the funniest thing in the world to everyone else, but it is to me. Those are the goofy things that make Lindsey fun to write about—she’s always doing something transgressive.
She still wants to race with the men, too. Her second day back on snow after re-tearing her ACL I was watching her train on Golden Peak. She took a few runs and the man she was training with beat her.  She got pretty agitated.  Yeah, Lindsey, you’re mad because you just re-tore your ACL and a man beat you?  She will never stop trying. Not until she gets to that 300, a perfect score.
                Every sport needs someone to push the boundaries, but it’s a little more than that.  It’s someone like Lindsey who treats everything and everyone the same as if she were watching a golf game, going bowling with her family, or winning a gold medal.
                I was waiting for Lindsey to finish all her races this weekend in Lake Louise to write this article, and then I realized that it didn’t really matter.  If she didn’t race I would write this same article, if she won, still, I would write this article, and if she placed exactly how she placed this weekend: 40th, 11th, and 5th, this article would still be the exact same. 
                She has proven to her friends, family, and fans what kind of a person she is but she has firstly, proven it to herself.
Skiing is what Lindsey does, but it is not who she is.  It’s hard for people to look past a name and find the real person.  To me, it’s not “Lindsey Vonn” I don’t know that person besides interviews and reports.  I just see Lindsey, and I want to make sure I put that person in my articles.  The

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Past. Present. Future.

Plane tickets are being booked and arrangements are made to head to Beaver Creek for Lindsey’s first race of the season.  I reflect on what it was that brought us to Colorado years ago.  I was seven, Lindsey was thirteen.  When our family moved from our hometown in Minnesota, we traded in our make-shift mountain, Buckhill, for the Rocky Mountains.  Now, sixteen years later, with the success of Lindsey’s career at its height, I realize the motive, the risk, and the complete blind jump my family took with Lindsey. 
I ask my dad to tell me about it.  I ask him how he had so much faith in his teenage daughter to uproot his family from the house he himself built, to sell it, and to move his five children to a two bedroom condo in Vail.
“I had a lot of faith in Lindsey. By that time I had complete faith in Lindsey.  I knew that she could be one of the best.”
                We sit in the kitchen, in our hometown in the suburbs of Minneapolis.  “But how did you get to that decision?” I ask.
  “I don’t think that there was a decision,” my dad takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes, settling into his chair.  “The idea was that Lindsey was really good, she was unique, and I thought I did understand what it took to make a champion.  So I said, let’s give it a shot.  And I knew there was a big element of risk in all of that.  Having her ski was not the fulfillment of my skiing; don’t forget I couched juniors for 15 years. I skied with the great skiers of the world so I knew what it was.  She was that good and she deserved a chance.” 
He stops to turn and look at me, smiling “You don’t believe that do you?”  I stop my typing and raise my eyebrows in response, “You never had a doubt?”
“Yes, but it’s not like it’s an epiphany where the curtain lifts.  But I can tell you exactly when I saw she had it—the love and determination.”
                My fingers wait, ready on the keyboard as he looks past the windows in reverie.
“She was nine years old.  She was at Mount Hood. She always went with Erich [Sailer] for the first weeks of June and August. In June the weather at Mt. Hood can be bad. Meaning it can rain and snow at the same time.  And one day, It was so bad up in the Palmer snowfield they couldn’t run the lifts.  But they were running the Magic Mile lift.”
He clears his throat to explain to me that the Palmer is higher than the Magic Mountain lift.
“When you got on the Magic Mountain lift, at the bottom it was raining and as you got up into a cloud bank at the top and it was snowing, big, thick flakes.  And so, you got very wet.  We had a Slalom course set. So you had the start and you would come down and it was snowing and you would be getting wet from the snow and then go into a fog and you couldn’t see anything and then as you come down the snow would turn back into rain again. Snow, to fog, to rain.  Then after you got your comments you would continue to ski down through the rain to the Magic Mountain lift and then ride the lift through rain, then fog, and snow again.  You’d be freezing by the time you got off the lift.  And it didn’t take long before the other kids began to dwindle away to the lodge at the bottom of Magic Mountain—anywhere it was warm and dry.  Ya know? But Lindsey didn’t.  She just went up and down.  And up and down. Until she was soaked to the bone.  I thought ‘Why did she do that at 9 years old?’  And so I concluded at that time that the only reason you would do that was that you really loved the sport.  I told her lets go in, but she wouldn’t. It’s not about the amount of doubt, because there is an element of proof.  That was the first indication, in my mind, that she had the will and determination, and stamina to train to be great.”
                While we look hopeful into the future with all that is to come this season, the testament of the past guides us to that confidence, that faith, we take in all our endeavors and remember that no mountain is too high when we have our friends and family for support.  That the risks are worth taking.
See you at the finish line and wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


            Lindsey announced that she will be sitting out for the World Cup Opening in Sölden this week.  Although her skiing schedule is on a day by day basis, she looks forward to starting her season off with all her friends and family on our home turf in Beaver Creek Colorado.  “I’m far ahead of where I thought I would be,” she says “but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Being competitive and pushing your limits is what makes an athlete successful; pushing your limits when injured makes an athlete retired.  Like Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls, it’s better to sit out one game or one race as a precaution than to be forced to sit out because you pushed your body too far. 
            Although this is a wise decision, it’s pretty surprising. When it comes to skiing Lindsey has never excluded an ounce of patience. If she wants to go, she goes, there’s no stopping her.  A story that never gets old, and that of course I will share with you, is the time Lindsey was in Torino, Italy right after her injury in the training runs before the 2006 Olympic races.  It was a devastating crash, one that made me cringe every time I accidently saw it flash up on the 6 o’clock news.  But when Lindsey got the results back that she was in better condition than her fall suggested: she only bruised her pelvis and with the reluctance that she still could (not should) race, she pulled out her IV herself and made a break for it down the hospital corridors—hospital gown and all. Fortunately, she couldn’t find the exit fast enough before a nurse caught up to her.
Lindsey always says that everything happens for a reason.  My philosophy is that everything happens: it’s your job to take something out of that situation—good or bad.  So this knee injury happened.  It’s the worst injury to date and the longest time Lindsey’s been off her skis.  Lindsey cried for about 15 minutes in the emergency room before she knew the worst of her injuries.  That’s it.  She didn’t complain and she didn’t feel sorry for herself.  I saw how sad and disappointed she was leaving Schladming but she chose, in that emergency room, to focus on the future.
Day one after her surgery she was already starting physical therapy.  Weeks later and she could bend her knee to 90 degrees; months passed and she could walk again; now, 9 months of blood, sweat, and tears and she’s back in Austria.
            “Mentally I’m really excited to ski, but physically I’m not aggressive enough.” says Lindsey.  Being a veteran on the World Cup, Lindsey knows how much training she needs, how things should feel, and more importantly, how they shouldn’t.  In the past Lindsey only needed four training runs during her practice.  Compare that to when she was just starting out on our hometown ski hill in Minnesota taking 15 runs a night.  Being a ski racer means you need to practice for technique, timing, angles, snow conditions, and equipment.  It’s not a sport that you can jump into. It’s a sport with many different variables that all need to be controlled and perfected in order to become successful.
What Lindsey has is a great deal of talent, but the truest of her accomplishments, and what every athlete strives for, is her consistency.  Consistency develops from mental and physical strength.  And, as Lindsey knows, the only way to get to this equilibrium between confidence and stability is through repetition.  “You can be as mentally prepared as you want to be, but without training, you’re not going to get the results you want. I just need more training.   Right now, I’m working on technique and timing.  You can tell that right now I’ve only trained gates for 10 days so far. I’ve had to ease my way into it.” Lindsey says “I’m not afraid.  I trust my knee.  I’m just not as aggressive as I was and not as fast as I could be.”
When you become an experienced skier your body naturally, through practice, knows how to move.  Now Lindsey has had to start over and although she’s not starting from zero, it takes time to get back to competing at a World Cup level.  Lindsey says, “Now I have this urgency I had when I was young—this motivation to make up for lost time.” 

There is a reason why Lindsey is stronger than she was, but it’s not because of the mysteries of destiny, it’s because of hard work.  She lost a lot, and gained it back.  It was a slow process and it’s still progressing.  As Lindsey gets back into her normal winter routine, we patiently await her return to the World Cup races.  With a lot of training ahead of her and a little bit of patience, Lindsey will make the wait worthwhile.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On the Fast-Track to Sochi

Exerpt:            I am not a World Champion skier, although I grew up with one, Lindsey Vonn.  All five Kildow siblings grew up skiing on mountains (some of us better than others), but only Lindsey showed the potential for success.  We moved to Vail Colorado when I was 7 years old, not fully realizing the big picture, to help the budding career of my sister.  One day at school in Vail, I had brought in my folder a neatly cut article about my sister, 14 years old,  in Sports Illustrated magazine for show and tell.  It was then that the career of my sister started, as a small snowball, and continued to roll and roll into the avalanche I find myself in: The Downhill Battle, with Lindsey Vonn.
Through Olympics and World Cups, relationships and devastating injuries, Lindsey has been through countless battles always seeming to comeback stronger.  Because talent alone is not enough to make a champion, what she has is the strong will to push herself to the top. 
Seven months ago, at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, Lindsey left me standing in the finish in terror and disbelief.  Suffering a torn ACL, MCL and fractured tibial plateau, her promising season - only three wins shy of the record set by Annemarie Moser-Pröll- was cut short.  Lindsey was forced to rest until her surgery with Dr. Sterret, in Vail Colorado and then to begin her long road back to Sochi.
“The first two months were the hardest part,” she said to me when I visited her in July for her training in Austria “Now we’re just gradually working me up to the level I was.”
I thought about the first month after her surgery when she would sit on the floor in long trances of concentration. Her eyes locked on her knee and her teeth biting her tongue trying to raise her heel off the ground while still keeping the bottom of her knee flat.  After several minutes, out of breath, she would shake her head.  I remember feeling unsure in those moments whether or not she could recover in time.
Lindsey met with her trainer Martin Hager and physical therapist Patrick Rottenhofer, she calls them affectionately “Hagi” and “Ricky,” to do testing at the Red Bull Training Center in Salzburg.  We woke up early so that Lindsey could ride a stationary bike for an hour while someone poked needles into her ears and fingers to test her blood levels.
“I’m doing better than I was doing last year” Lindsey said loudly over her music, smiling and out of breath on the bike, her head bobbing up and down in rhythm with her knees. 
Next, I visited Lindsey in Miami a month ago, and if I hadn’t been there with her in that Austrian hospital I would have never believed she had ever had an accident. My sister Karin and I had to convince her (we being the only ones held responsible should something happen to her) not to do a back-flip from the side of the pool into the water.  That being said, it was no surprise to me when I called Lindsey in Portillo, Chile this week that she was in high spirits and quickly gaining speed down the mountain. 
The Red Bull team, Robert Trenkwalder, Hagi, and Ricky, along with the women’s U.S. Ski Team, US Ski Team coach Jeff Fergus, Head’s very own “Magic” Heinz Hämmerle, Vail’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. William Sterett, with the moral support of Tiger woods, and everyone’s prayers back home in the U.S., all eagerly awaiting as Lindsey touches snow for the first time since she was airlifted to the hospital in February last winter.
“The girls [U.S. Women’s Ski Team] look pretty…eh, perplexed!”  Lindsey tells me, “Usually coming back from an injury you train one or two days and have a day off, but I’m almost keeping up with them, I’m on the same program which is pretty abnormal.  And my knee isn’t swelling. Ferg [Jeff Fergus] is having me do these dumb drills…which could be a good idea but I wanna go fast and he won’t let me!” Lindsey whines.
 U.S. Ski Team’s physical trainer and Lindsey’s best bud on the mountains, Lindsay Winninger gives me a full report:
“Lindsey has worked hard all summer and her knee has responded well throughout her rehab. There are always some uncertainties when returning to sport after a big surgery like this, but her return to snow progression has gone extremely well and her knee feels great. Lindsey has even been able to continue her normal dry land training on top of skiing, which is huge. Things are right on track.”
If I were Lindsey’s competition, I probably would, as Lindsey told me “write her off,” I probably would think she was going to be “the underdog this season.”  When I asked Lindsey how she viewed herself, she said humbly but without any second thoughts:
“I have a long ways to go before race ready, but I’m ahead of my expected timeline, I’m on the fast track!”
On Face Time more than 5,000 miles away, Lindsey makes funny faces into the camera and laughs as she tells me how her day was: 

“Yeah, it’s really good” she says “I started training gates today!” 

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. 


Monday, January 7, 2013


  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 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!