Lindsey Vonn’s Incredible Climb & View from the Top
By Allison Kugel
The new HBO documentary, Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season (premiering November 26th at 10pm ET), is anything but that for the Olympic gold medal winner and former World Alpine Ski Racer. While 2019 was her final push down the slopes as a professional ski racer, Lindsey Vonn The Brand, is coming into a new season and picking up steam. Known to some as a beautiful pop culture figure (a vison of her blonde braided hair amid piles of snow conjures Frozen’s Elsa) with a famous dating history, and to others as one of the most kick-ass girls to ever put on a pair of skis, “A Mighty Girl” doesn’t quite cover the drive, discipline and talent that Vonn represents in a culture overrun with vapid beauty and shallow notoriety. With eighty-two World Cup races and two Olympic gold medals under her belt, Lindsey Vonn is a testament to the power of practice and hard work; two qualities that seem to be ailing in our current Insta-fame climate.
The detailed personal and professional moments that Vonn shares in her documentary will recalibrate your definition of success and make you fall back in love with the small triumphs along the way to the big win, which as Lindsey Vonn knows, holds as much value as the destination in the distance. Vonn will also soon be highlighting the peaks and valleys of her life in her upcoming memoir, Rise (Dey Street Books), out in March of 2020.
During our conversation, Lindsey and I spoke about her unconventional and remarkable life, both on and off skis, how she is coping post-retirement, and what she hopes the younger generation will learn from her journey.
Allison Kugel: One of the big takeaways I got from your HBO documentary, Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season, is that from afar success looks glamorous, but up close, success looks like a lot of hard work.
Lindsey Vonn: One hundred percent. That’s exactly spot on! People just see the end result. They see the Olympic Gold and they see me winning World Cup races. They never see what goes into it; how you got there, the sacrifices you’ve made and the hours in the gym. That’s why I’ve always liked sharing my story on Instagram and on my social media, because I want people to know that it’s not just this glamorous life.
Allison Kugel: Take me through what it’s really been like…
Lindsey Vonn: I’d be up at 5 AM and have all my meals specially portioned and made and go to the gym and work hard. Then I would do my rehab, and there’s always injuries and surgeries. It’s a full-time job. It’s been my [life] and my goal since I was nine years old and it’s been a very long journey. I think that’s why I’m so proud of this documentary. It gives a pretty good picture of, especially how this last season went, with the pain and sacrifice. My team has gotten me through so much in my career. It’s not just the smiley, glamorous photo finish at the end. It takes a lot to get to that point. I wanted to break the World Cup win record and I wanted to have this great swan song. Then, three days in, I tore my knee up. It didn’t go the way we had hoped, but I’m really happy we made this documentary. Looking back, it’s something I can share with my kids someday, and something that will show more of who I am, not just as a champion, but as a hard worker.
Allison Kugel: Do you have the clarity and perspective to, rather than zeroing in on that one win-record you didn’t break due to your injury, to sit back and see the entire picture of your successful career?
Lindsey Vonn: It’s difficult to think about that record (her dogs, including Lucy, who shares the screen with Vonn in her documentary, interrupts)…
Allison Kugel: By the way, how cute is your dog Lucy in this film? I love how she keeps you company during some lonely moments, and how she keeps your morale up. It was so sweet to watch.
Lindsey Vonn: They’re the best. Especially during my surgeries, they’re always there for me and they always want me, no matter what. They [all] made me feel so much better. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through all the surgeries and all those lonely days at home with my leg up, and in pain, without them. I’ll get back to your other question. I lost my train of thought (laughs)…
Allison Kugel: Totally my fault! (Laughs) I just had to tell you that Lucy stole the show in every scene she’s in, in your documentary. How could I not bring that up?
Lindsay Vonn: It was so funny… at the premiere, every time Lucy was on the screen everyone was cheering and laughing. I put her in a human baby onesie for the world championships and everyone was hysterically laughing at that moment in the film, during the premiere. It made me so happy, because she is the star of the show!
Allison Kugel: Cutest thing ever! Okay, back to the other topic. I know from experience that perfectionists always zero in on the things that didn’t go perfectly rather than the big picture…
Lindsey Vonn: Big picture, I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished, but it’s taken me a moment to get there. I’ve always been so goal oriented. Throughout the course of my entire career, I would set the goal and I met it. This one was the only goal I hadn’t met (breaking Ingemar Stenmark’s record). I think for all the goals I’ve set, to not accomplish one is totally fine. I am a perfectionist, so I always want to be perfect, and you can’t be. No one is, and like I said in my documentary, “Who actually gets a fairytale ending?” Very few people, and in the end, I did something I didn’t think I could do, which is getting a bronze medal in the World Championships with no ligaments, basically. That ending was more than I could have asked for given the situation.
Allison Kugel: In this Instagram, picture-perfect world that young girls are exposed to, do you see yourself as a role model?
Lindsey Vonn: It’s what I have always strived for with my foundation (The Lindsey Vonn Foundation), to show girls that they have to believe in themselves. Social media [images], bullies and people online, that’s not real. It’s all about how you view yourself and how much you believe in yourself. There have been so many people in my life that have said that I wasn’t going to make it, and that I wasn’t good enough. I never believed them; I believed in myself. It’s always what I’ve been trying to get across to young girls and young kids. This film is a great platform for that message to have a much louder voice.
Allison Kugel: I don’t know if you are a spiritual person. But I believe that everybody’s soul comes here to learn specific lessons and that we all have certain themes that are pre-written into our life, path for the purpose. Your mom suffered a stroke while giving birth to you. At the age of 11, your entire family relocated from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Vail, Colorado for the benefit of your career. There’s been a lot of sacrifice on your behalf. Did that make you feel like doing well wasn’t good enough? Like you had to do great things to justify all that sacrifice? And has it felt like a weight on you?
Lindsey Vonn: It has felt like a weight at times, but I’ve always felt like my life had a purpose and that skiing was my purpose. Now that I’m older, I feel like skiing has gotten me to a point where I have a platform and I can do so many positive things with that platform. But growing up, I always had this feeling that everything happens for a reason and there’s a reason I’m here. There’s a reason that things happened to me the way they did. I never lost faith in my goals because I believed that. I don’t know how to explain it except to say that there is this weird sense of purpose that I have always had, since I was nine years old. That’s what’s gotten me through a lot of times.
Allison Kugel: You talk about the amazing adrenaline rush that you would get from competitive ski racing, which I would imagine gave you an incredible high. When you are used to those extreme highs, have you experienced depression since ending your career, from not having those extreme adrenaline highs?
Lindsey Vonn: I got pretty depressed, not from the sudden lack of adrenaline, which I was shocked about, by the way. It was more from no longer having the same goal every day. For almost my entire life, I’ve woken up and my singular focus has been skiing. I had business, photo shoots and workouts, but for all those years the center of my universe had been skiing. Suddenly, I came home from the world championships, I woke up and I didn’t have it anymore. It was a very difficult time where I struggled to find balance. I’ve struggled to be happy without skiing. I feel like I have made progress with a lot of therapy. P.K. (Vonn’s fiancé, NHL hockey player, P.K. Subban) has been the rock in my life and someone who has given so much more purpose and so much more perspective and has really gotten me through this period in my life. It’s difficult for any athlete, but especially when I’ve been a professional athlete for almost twenty years. I’m thankful that he’s been there, as well as my sisters and the rest of my family.
Allison Kugel: P.K. is still playing pro-hockey, so when he is ready to retire, down the road, you’ll be able to be there for him through that transition.
Lindsey Vonn: He’s going to play for about six to eight years, so it will be awhile before he retires. He understands it to a certain degree, but there are some things that even I didn’t expect. I had been prepared to retire, but there are certain things that, when it happens, it’s somehow different. I’ll be here to help him, and hopefully we’ll have a family at that point so that will make it a lot easier.
Allison Kugel: Do you see yourself having a baby in the next year or two?
Lindsey Vonn: Yeah. We want to get married first. We’re traditional… and also not traditional at the same time (laughs). I’m thirty-five, so we want to start having a family before I miss out on the opportunity.
Allison Kugel: A good part of your own childhood was spent preparing for a professional skiing career. Are you looking forward to experiencing a traditional childhood vicariously through your own children?
Lindsey Vonn: Not really, to be honest. I feel like with social media and everything going on these days, childhood is more difficult. I think it’s going to be a challenge, but if and when we have kids, social media will still be around, but hopefully it will be reshaped and not as toxic for young kids.
Allison Kugel: What do you think you are here in this life as Lindsey Vonn to learn?
Lindsey Vonn: I don’t think I’m here just to learn one thing. I think I am here to learn a lot. I feel like I learn things from every person that I meet, from all walks of life. I always ask questions and I always want to make myself a better person.
Allison Kugel: What are you here to teach?
Lindsey Vonn: In teaching, I want to pass everything I’ve learned on to the next generation. I’m hoping to continue to share my experiences and give girls the confidence they need to be amazing adults.
Allison Kugel: When you become the subject of one of those kids’ biographies that they’re making now, the Who Is/WhoWas series (Penguin Young Readers) of books which I love, and when kids read the Who Is Lindsey Vonn? book, which they will, what do you want them to take away from your life story?
Lindsey Vonn: When you fall, pick yourself back up. Everyone has obstacles in their life. No matter how big or how small, we all have challenges. It’s how you pick yourself back up that counts. Failure is only failure if you don’t pick yourself back up. Never stay down.
Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season premieres November 26th at 10pm ET/PT on HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now, and is available on HBO OnDemand November 27th.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, author of the memoir, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record, and owner of communications firm, Full Scale Media. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel and at AllisonKugel.com.
Photo Credits: Photo of Lindsey in Ski Gear, Courtesy of Lindsey Vonn
Red Carpet Photos Courtesy of Jeff Mayer/FilmMagic for HBO
Poster photo courtesy of HBO