The World Cup for Alpine skiing starts in late October and winds up in mid-March. There are more than 20 stops, and the schedule can be interrupted by mountains with not enough snow, too much snow, excessively warm weather or dangerous winds.
Lindsey Vonn has been skiing in World Cup competition since she debuted as a 16-year-old in November 2000 in Park City, Utah. She was the skiing equivalent of a prospect then, and competing with her family name of Kildow.
Sixteen years later, Lindsey has had historic World Cup success: a women’s record of 76 wins in individual events and a record-equaling four overall titles.
There also have been rides off the mountain in air ambulances. How many?
“Three,” she said.
Vonn was back in the Twin Cities, the home of her youth, Friday to host an event sponsored by the Lindsey Vonn Foundation. The foundation is less than a year old, and it raises funds for athletic programs and esteem-building for girls.
The program that took place Friday afternoon was intended for girls ages 10 to 14. Admission was free at the Orpheum Theatre.
Earlier Friday, there was a conversation with Vonn in which she was asked if early June was still the “rest” season for World Cup skiers.
“The rest is over by June,” she said. “I travel for various things, but I take my trainer with me. In July, the conditioning gets intense. In September, I start skiing again.”
Vonn’s most famous crash came Feb. 5, 2013, in the first race — a super-G — of the World Championships in Schladming, Austria. She ripped up her right knee completely: a torn ACL and MCL, and also a fracture near the shin bone.
The air ambulance took her away that day. The only people sadder than Vonn and her fans were located at NBC, which was planning on Lindsey to be one of the stars of their coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Vonn’s social media sites included a gruesome photo of what the right knee looked like after surgery.
She tried to come back early in the 2014 World Cup season and ease through races, but finally announced Jan. 7 that she wouldn’t be able to compete in Sochi. By December 2014, she was back winning World Cup races.
Vonn will turn 32 in October, right before the start of another World Cup season. I don’t get how a skier throws herself off a mountain in a downhill, or carves her way through the gates, with a knee that was so damaged.
Do you still feel the pain after a weekend of races?
“Definitely; it’s there all the time,” she said. “The main thing is before I work out or ski, I have to manipulate the patella. I have to make sure it’s not too stiff to move with the knee.”
Why the patella?
“They took some of the patella in that knee to replace the ACL,” she said.
Vonn’s goal with her foundation is to help girls deal with more common problems.
“One of the things many young women have to deal today is cyber bullying,” she said. “It can really be destructive. We’re trying to help girls deal with that and other attacks on their self-esteem.
“There are too many people trying to make a girl think she has to be perfect. ‘Don’t believe that; we are all beautiful in our own way.’ That’s the message.”
Vonn has been the subject of several glamour photo spreads. Yet, she’s not a 110-pound waif; she’s a muscled athlete. That power to get to top of a World Cup podium 76 times isn’t going to come from a size-6 frame.
“I have a great life, I know that,” she said. “I love what I do. But if I’m at an event, I don’t look like the other women you’re going to see on a red carpet. And I think a lot of young girls can see some of themselves in me.
“My inspiration was Picabo Street, after I was a 9-year-old and met her at Pierce Skate & Ski. Maybe I can inspire some people in the same way — not as skiers, but as proud young women.”
As for the cyber bullying, Vonn would seem to be bulletproof, but she didn’t feel that way when her now-ended relationship with Tiger Woods became public.
“It was vicious on social media at the start, and I didn’t know how to handle it,” Vonn said. “He helped me a lot by saying, ‘We have a culture that includes people who want to say bad things.’
“I still go on Facebook and Instagram once in a while, but I only look for the comments from people that I know are going to be supportive. With events like today, I hope we can help young women to look at the positive and ignore the rest.”