lindsey vonn

Alpine Racer Lindsey Vonn: "There's Always Something Higher, So Why Would I Stop?"

Good luck to anything in this skier's way

Across various industries and worlds, there's a goal that's easily translatable: to excel. Great achievement — won through dedicated work and a determination to improve — has been associated with Rolex for generations, making the brand's collaboration with ambassadors from a range of fields feel right. In an ongoing partnership with Rolex, we explore the journeys of these exceptional women.


Tough barely begins to describe Lindsey Vonn. On the racing slopes, she's the one with the big crystal trophies, though they didn't come easy. Rough landings, stubborn injuries, even an emergency airlift off of a mountain at the 2006 Turin Olympics have all threatened to derail a lifelong career. (After that crash, Vonn returned to the slopes straight from her hospital room to compete — never mind that anyone else would have welcomed a day off). But somehow, again and again, the American alpine racer has nailed many of the sport's most aspirational feats. Olympic medals aside (she has two), Vonn broke the record for women's World Cup wins with 76 victories — the all-time record, male or female, is 86. This year, she became the first skier in history to win 20 Crystal Globes when she took the World Cup downhill title. Her eyes are now on a prize that's not even an actual race at this point in time: beating the boys on the same course.

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That's the thing about Vonn: Once she gets going, her momentum is impossible to stop. We talk with the downhiller about resilience, the importance of gratitude, and why, when knocked down, her first impulse is to keep moving.

On growing up on the slopes:

"I've always loved skiing. I started skiing with my dad when I was two and a half years old. Even before I could walk, I was in a backpack while he skied. (My dad grew up skiing, he was a racer, so he knew what he was doing.) I started going to ski camps without my parents when I was seven years old. When I was nine, I flew by myself to Europe for the first time for a ski camp, and we skied on the glaciers. It's always been something I've loved doing. I love being on the mountain."

On thinking big early on:

"My mom said that I would draw pictures when I was six or seven of me winning races and writing 'The Greatest Skier of All Time,' and signing my name to it. I don't know where that came from because no one ever told me that."

On the power of a role model:

"I met [ski racer] Picabo Street when I was nine at an autograph session at a local ski shop in Minnesota. She really inspired me to want to be an Olympic skier. When I met her, I was like, this is what I really want to do. I just want to be her. I waited in line for three hours to see her, and I met her for two minutes. It was like meeting a superhero. She's who inspired me."

Vonn wins the gold medal in the downhill event at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I would draw pictures when I was six or seven of me winning races and writing 'The Greatest Skier of All Time,' and signing my name to it."

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On her A-ha moment:

"When I was 11, I was racing against 13, 14 year olds, and I was winning. It was a pretty unique situation because obviously they were a lot older, but no one had ever done that before. I didn't realise it was such a big deal until I got to the Junior Olympics, and I won. Everyone was talking about it. I felt like age didn't matter, and I felt like I was going places, like I was accomplishing something. And I felt like no one could stop me."

On the best support system, bar none:

"I've always wanted to be in the Olympics, but it's a different thing when you say you want it to be your career. My entire family moved out to Colorado when I was 12 so that I could race. I'm the oldest of five kids. [My siblings] all started racing, too, but they weren't that into it. My whole family made sacrifices so that I could ski."

On competing throughout childhood:

"I did homeschooling for two years. I never went to prom. I didn't have many friends growing up because I wasn't in school very often, and when I was racing, it was with kids much older than me, so I never really fit in. I also had braces and a perm and bangs at the same time, so that's not a good way to make friends!

"[My classmates] had no idea [what I was doing]. They were like, wait — why are you leaving? I'm like, 'I have to go race.' 'But, why?' No one really understood at all. I didn't have that many people I could talk to about it, but that didn't really bother me. I was on my path and doing my thing."

On deciding to go all-in:

"I asked my dad, 'I want to make the Olympics in Salt Lake City, how do I get there?' He really laid it all out for me: 'You have to have success at all these different levels. You have to win here, here, and here, and you have to make the team at this age.' It was always very apparent to me how important [this career] was.

"I was in international competitions when I was 11, 12, and 13. Then I was in the Olympics when I was 17. There's this one race in Italy, and all the past winner have gone on to have World Cup success and Olympic success, so when I won that, it was like OK, it's all coming together."

"There's always something that's higher, there's always someone who's done more than you, so why would I stop?"

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On pushing herself:

"It's [about] staying hungry and never getting complacent. The moment you're satisfied, that's when you're done. I want to get better. I want to do more. When I won my first overall title, everyone said I wasn't going to do it again because I was young and [I'd] get satisfied. But I wanted to win more, and that's always helped me maintain the success that I've had and continue to reach for more. There's always something that's higher, there's always someone who's done more than you, so why would I stop?"

On her greatest fear:

"Failure isn't the right word, but there was a time around the 2006 Olympics where I didn't really appreciate things as I should have, and that's become my fear — to get to that point where I don't appreciate it and lose that sense of urgency. I'm not afraid of going fast or crashing. That's just part of the deal. I mean, you're chucking yourself down a mountain at 80 miles an hour; you're gonna pack it in sometimes."

"That [incident] changed my whole mindset of how much I appreciate what I do and understanding that it could be over at any minute. It gave me a different perspective on everything."

On training with the men's teams:

"You know, I train with the men a lot, and men are [said to be] inherently better at skiing than women because they're [thought to be] stronger and bigger and can go faster. So I try to emulate them, and I aspire to be at that level."

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On hitting a career-defining milestone:

"Right before the Olympics, in 2009, I joined the Rolex family. It was a huge honor. You know, when you're with Rolex, that means you're at the pinnacle, you're the elite athlete. That was huge. Rolex has been a sponsor of the Junior Olympics [since] I was a kid. I've always had Rolex bibs, and it's always been something that I've thought about — that when you get a Rolex sponsorship, that means that you have made it: You're timeless, you've transcended sport, and you're more of an icon than anything else."

On making comebacks:

"The 2006 Olympics was big for me because I crashed and I thought I broke my back. I went off a jump backwards and landed on my back, and [I was in] excruciating pain. I thought, there's no way I'm coming out of this. I was helicoptered off the mountain, and they had me go through all the CAT scans and MRIs, and I was like, it's over. I was hysterically crying. I had prepared myself for not being able to ski again. And then when I got the results back, I was like, I want to go back on the mountain right now. I want another chance.

"I almost escaped the hospital. I ran away in my hospital gown and socks, and they caught me before I got to the elevator. I was in Italy and no one spoke English. I didn't have a phone, but I was like, I'm sure my mom's here in the lobby. I need to get back up to the mountain. I was hobbling down the hallway and these old Italian women caught me and forced me back into my room. When my mom found her way up there, I was like, "We gotta go NOW, I gotta race.' [Editor's note: Vonn suffered bruises to her tailbone, and within two days of her hospitalization, she returned to the slopes and competed in four of her five events.]

"That [incident] changed my whole mindset of how much I appreciate what I do and understanding that it could be over at any minute. It gave me a different perspective on everything."

On the importance of rest and recovery:

"Understanding what my body is telling me is important. It's hard to keep everything feeling good when you're putting it through so much stress day in and day out. But I know what I need: I know that I need a massage almost every single day. I have to ice my knee. I have to do the foam roll. I have to do hot baths. There are certain things I need to do to maintain it, and I do everything I need to do to take care of it, because without it, I can't do my job. I have a very strong appreciation for what my body can do."

On paying it forward:

"I've found so much fulfillment in inspiring kids, meeting them and spending time with them. When I see a girl I've met five years ago and she's telling me how much I inspired her and how she's skiing or studying hard or whatever it is — that gives me so much joy. Even if you spend, like 30 seconds with a kid, she remembers it for the rest of her life, similar to what happened with me and Picabo Street. So I understand that [as role models] we can have a huge impact."

On finding an escape on the mountain:

"I've just always felt that in my life, no matter what's happening, I can be on the mountain and be happy and have a sense of self. It's so peaceful, especially when you're the first one up there and it's quiet. I hope to ski [competitively] for another 2, 3, 4 years — we'll see how my body holds up. But I will definitely be skiing forever."

From: Elle
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