More mountains to climb for Vonn

Buck Hill-trained racer trains for 2018 Olympics as foundation gets off the ground

At a recent appearance in Burnsville, Lindsey Vonn pronounced herself “100 percent healthy” and ready to pursue medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics. U.S. Ski Team photo

It took some doing, but Lindsey Vonn found a bright side to missing time on the World Cup skiing circuit – and one Olympics – because of injuries.

“I started my foundation after my second ACL surgery,” said Vonn, whose 77 World Cup career victories is the women’s record. “It was a longer rehab, and I missed almost a full season of racing. I had time on my hands and thought, what better way to be productive and give back?

“Starting a foundation is something I always thought about, but I didn’t really think it would be possible to accomplish during my career. I think that’s one of the best things that’s come out of my injuries, being able to have the time to start it.”

Vonn was in the Twin Cities recently between training camps in New Zealand and Chile as she prepares for the 2017-18 World Cup season and the 2018 Winter Olympics. In addition to visiting family in Apple Valley, she appeared at her foundation’s Strong Girls Camp at Buck Hill, where her skiing career started. The camp, designed for girls ages 11-14, includes various physical activities such as obstacle courses and hiking, and assigns campers a female athlete as a mentor.

“My goal is to empower them and inspire them to be whatever it is they want to be,” Vonn said. “It doesn’t have to be ski racing. It’s just believing in themselves, and sometimes the small things make the big difference.”

Vonn’s foundation also plans to support girls by awarding academic scholarships. She said starting a foundation was more complex than she ever imagined, but she had help. Her sister, Laura Kildow, is the organization’s executive director.

This is likely to be one of her occupations once she is done racing – whenever that might be; Vonn, 32, said she plans to compete at least through the 2018-19 World Cup season.

She said she identifies with the emotional challenges teenage and preteen girls deal with. “I was never really the cool kid,” Vonn said. “I was always kind of the dorky kid. I never was really picked for anything in school for team sports. I had two experiences meeting idols. One with Picabo Street (1998 Olympic gold medalist) was very positive, and one – I’m not going to name her – but she was not nice, and it really crushed me.

“A lot of parents throughout my career have said, wow, it’s really refreshing to meet you because we met so-and-so last year and they really crushed our daughter’s hopes and dreams simply by not being a gracious person. I know the impact it can make. I try to keep that in mind.”

Vonn also was in town for a Buck Hill Foundation event honoring Buck Hill Ski Racing Club program director Erich Sailer, her first coach.

“Erich had a lot to do with my success,” said Vonn, who started skiing at Buck Hill when she was 2. “He taught me all the basics, as did my father. He’s had over 50 athletes make the U.S. Ski Team, and that’s an incredible accomplishment. He’s done wonders with this program.”

Vonn’s skiing resume includes four World Cup overall championships, including three in a row from 2008 to 2010. She has a record eight season championships in the downhill. About half of her World Cup race victories – 39 to be exact – have been in the downhill, as was her 2010 Olympic gold medal. Injuries have occasionally interrupted her career. A second surgery on her right knee caused her to pull out of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and she missed some time in the 2016-17 World Cup season after fracturing her right arm during training.

She said she’s healthy again, but the injuries have changed how she trains.

“I think I work harder. I have to spend more time working out than I used to,” she said. “I need an extra 30 minutes just to warm up my knee. When I ski, when I train, it’s a lot of extra work to make sure my body is staying healthy. It’s a matter of making sure I’m taking care of myself. I can’t do too much impact. I can’t run. There are just certain things I have to be careful of. It’s part of getting older, but it’s just about being smart as well.”

Vonn said she wants to compete at the 2018 Olympics in downhill, giant slalom and combined. She doesn’t expect to do any slalom races in the 2017-18 season. She stopped short of saying the 2018 Games in February in South Korea are her last shot at Olympic medals.

“You never know. I don’t want to say it’s my last because you don’t know where life will take you, but at this point it probably will be my last,” she said. “It kind of depends on my body. If it holds up, I’ll keep going and if it doesn’t, then I’ll probably have to retire.”

After the Olympics, she has given herself at least one more season to try to surpass the overall World Cup record of 86 victories held by Ingemar Stenmark, who accumulated his titles from 1975 to 1989. Vonn called it “one of my biggest goals.

“I want to make sure I’m focused on the Olympics this season and try to go after that record. I’m very happy with my training, and I can’t wait for February.”