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.
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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!”