Greason: Lindsey Vonn refuses to quit
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, February 24, 2017
You’re standing on top of a mountain, looking down at a nearly vertical wall of ice, nearly a foot thick. There’s no end in sight. What’s your first instinct?
Back away. Find another way down.
Or you could edge your way down, slowly slipping and sliding, muttering to yourself about how you should have gone on that beach vacation.
Or you could throw yourself down the slope at 80 mph, turning as infrequently as possible, all the while knowing one microscopic wrong move — a simple weight imbalance or reaction time a fraction of a second too slow — could result in catastrophe.
If you are Lindsey Vonn, the choice is obvious: you ski. You ski fast. No matter what.
Vonn, an alpine skiing icon, has been plagued by injuries due to those microscopic wrong moves, dating back to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Yet, she continues to ski, to put everything on the line every time she stands in the starting gate.
And that’s what makes Lindsey Vonn so impressive. It’s not her resume — which, by the way, boasts a record 77 wins on the World Cup circuit. It is the fact that so many of those wins come with underlying circumstances that no one could guess while looking at her on top of the podium.
Vonn’s first truly major injury — the first for which she could not just ski through the excruciating pain — came at the 2013 World Championships when she failed to land a jump during her super-G race, crashing through a gate and sliding hundreds of yards on her back before finally coming to a stop with her screams of pain audible through the television coverage. She was airlifted to an Austrian hospital with a torn ligament in her right knee and a broken tibia. That night, she was flown to her hometown of Vail, Colorado, underwent surgery and began her recovery training nearly immediately.
She missed the remainder of the season, but was back on skis for training within seven months — an impressive feat in and of itself.
Vonn’s crash occurred just over a year before the Sochi Olympics, a destination she made blatantly clear was her ultimate goal for her injury comeback. But then, it happened again. Vonn crashed in a training run during her recovery. She tried to ski through the pain her partially torn ACL caused her, but her knee gave out while racing soon after, leading to the discovery that her ACL was, in fact, fully torn and that she had done damage to her MCL and joint, forcing her to withdraw from the Olympics just a month before the opening ceremony.
By December 2014, Vonn had made it back to the top of the podium, winning her second race back at Lake Louise in Canada, which many have affectionately named Lake Lindsey, due to her continued success there.
Vonn continued to rack up victories and podium appearances, despite intermittent injuries and broken bones, giving her 76 total World Cup wins, before breaking her arm in November. However, she once again rebounded quicker than expected, winning her 77th World Cup race on Jan. 20, her second race back.
Seventy-seven wins is a lot of wins. But when you consider the fact that, in her 15 years of a member of the U.S. ski team, there were seasons Vonn’s skis barely touched snow, her 77 wins look even more impressive.
But when you account for the psychological damage these injuries have done to Vonn, the number is simply unbelievable. Lindsey Vonn knows firsthand the damage a tiny mistake can cause, and yet she can stand at the top of a mountain without fear and ski as hard as she did when she first appeared on the scene.
The PyeongChang Olympics are just under a year away. A lot could happen between now and then, but Lindsey Vonn will almost certainly be on the podium. She could crash countless times in the next year, but if Vonn is healthy enough to ski at all, expect to see her on the podium once again. She’s simply too strong to count out.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.