Known as the most successful female ski racer in the world – Lindsey Vonn is one of the few world-class, four-event ski racers. She is the only American woman to ever capture downhill gold at the Olympics and the only American woman with four World Cup overall titles. Six weeks after she turned 20, Vonn (then Kildow) produced her first World Cup victory in Lake Louise, Alberta. She has since captured an all time win record on the women’s side with 76 World Cup wins. In addition to her 2010 Olympic downhill gold and super G bronze, she holds five World Championship medals, including double gold in 2009.
In her comeback year for the 2014-15 season, Vonn really charged and proved to everyone that she is back and better than ever, leading the way in the first-ever historic U.S. podium sweep in Lake Louise and snagging the all-time World Cup wins record of 63 wins and extending that total to 67 by season’s end, along with grabbing super G and downhill titles, third overall and 19 total World Cup titles – the record among females and matching Ingemar Stenmark’s record.
In August of 2015 during her first full, injury-free prep period in years, Vonn suffered another setback in Coronet Peak training, fracturing her left ankle. She came back with a vengeance, though, taking a clean podium sweep of Lake Louise and then continuing to break records – like grabbing her 36th downhill win in a two-run sprint downhill in Zauchensee to tie Annemarie Moser-Proell’s record. In La Thuile, Vonn grabbed second in the downhill, clinching her eighth World Cup downhill title and becoming the first skier in history to have won 20 crystal globes, surpassing Stenmark’s 19. Leading in the overall standings, Vonn crashed in Soldeu-El-Tarter, Andorra’s super G sustaining a left tibial plateau fracture and going down on a sled following the crash. The next day, in what seemed to be a superhero-like feat, Vonn decided to ski the alpine combined. She did what no one expected she could have done, and won the super G portion of the combined and ended up 13th after slalom, forcing a three-way tie for the combined globe with one event to go.
With three weekends of racing remaining in the season, Vonn won nine races and was currently leading the World Cup overall – by a slim margin – and super G standings, and in a three-way tie for the alpine combined lead. She wisely called it a season so she could set her sights on the healing process and prepare for a couple of big years to come. In early November of this year for the fourth time in the last five winters, a serious injury will interrupt Lindsey Vonn’s ski racing season once again. However, Vonn’s promises to return to the slops in 2017.
Off the snow Vonn is a media mogul and a favorite topic for the tabloids. A very public relationship with golf icon Tiger Woods ended this year and a new relationship with Kenan Smith, a Los Angeles Rams assistant wide receivers coach. From her roots in small town Minnesota, she has become a regular on “Most Marketable” athlete lists. It’s no wonder major companies have picked her up for national television commercials. She played a major role in NBC’s Today Show coverage of the Sochi Olympics by hosting her own segments and providing analysis from the NYC studios. Grab any major magazine including this one of course and she’s probably been in it–Glamour, Women’s Health and People to name a few. Or on the cover–Fitness, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, TV Guide to name a few more.
These days Vonn is on the road promoting her new book “Strong is the New Beautiful.” Part autobiography, part manual for healthy living, “Strong is the New Beautiful” moves through the ups and downs of Vonn’s remarkable career, from her earliest days as a young racer with an exceedingly supportive and committed family, who, having the means, was willing to be uprooted to move to Vail to help support Vonn’s training as she was showing great promise on the race course.
In the following interview Vonn talks about her shocking body image issues and what it’s like to feel judged.
You’re obviously very beautiful. Do you see what most of the world see’s when you look in the mirror?
When I look at myself on my own, I think I look okay. But when I stand next to someone else…now I’ve just gotten to the point where I just don’t care anymore. All shapes and sizes are beautiful — the important part is your perception of yourself. I’m not preaching that I’m the ideal, or that strong is the only body type — I’m saying embrace the body you have.
You dedicated your new book to those who don’t feel comfortable with their body including yourself. Really?
Yeah! Even people that I’m close with think I’m crazy for saying that. But I’ve always been insecure. I’ve always felt different than other people. I’m bigger, I’m more muscular. As my friends used to say, “I’m big boned.” I’ve never really been 100 percent confident in myself. I’m very confident on the mountain. But on the mountain, I’m insecure. I’ve never felt beautiful enough. I’m finally coming into my own at age 32.
Where does that come from?
I never really have been the popular kid growing up. I was always traveling and I never fit in. I think having a perm and braces all at the same time wasn’t helpful. I didn’t feel that great about myself growing up. Especially since the 2010 Olympics when I was thrown into red carpet situations with beautiful models and actresses. I just didn’t fit in and I didn’t feel like I belonged. It made me question my weight and how I look. It took a little hit on my skiing. I ended up losing the World Cup by 3 points that season. I think it had a lot to do with being insecure and not excepting who I am. I was trying to be skinny and fit into a image that wasn’t me. It’s kind of funny because before I was 17, I was incredibly skinny. I was made fun of and called “chicken” and “chicken wings”—I was super tall and probably weighed 30 pounds less than I do now. Then I gained weight because my metabolism slowed down, and I kind of was on the other end of the spectrum. I’m normal-size, but when I started to do well and do events and photo shoots, I felt like I was too big.
Any advice for women reading this who might be having body image issues?
The most important thing is to eat healthy. When I’m eating really clean and splurge on something really sugary, I feel like I’m gonna vomit. So eat what your body wants, and try to be as active as you can. Get into a routine, and the more you can stick to that routine, the easier it’ll be to stay fit and healthy.
You’ve been spending more time on the red carpet. Do you feel comfortable out there?
At first it’s kind of awkward standing there while people take pictures of you; now it’s fun—although I definitely don’t fit in on the red carpet.
What do you mean?
I’m, like, twice the size of anyone, in both height and weight! I’m five-foot-ten, but I’m definitely quite a bit heavier than everyone else. I feel like the odd man out sometimes, but that’s even more reason to be confident, to show girls that you don’t have to be a size 2 to be beautiful. Any size is beautiful as long as you’re confident in yourself.
In you’re book you feature a photo of yourself pretty much naked aside from holding on to ski polls. That to me looks like a very confident person.
Well when I look at myself on my own I think I look okay. But when I stand next to someone who I thought was a size 6 but in person they are a size 0, what you think looks normal on TV is not reality. People on TV are so much thinner. So next to these people I thought, “Wow, I’m way out of my league!” It was startling. Now I don’t care so much. I’ve been put in this paparazzi world where people pay more attention to my personal life more than my skiing career. Which I don’t always enjoy. I’ve been put into this box with all this scrutiny. If I continue to pay attention to it I’ll drive myself crazy. So I don’t listen anymore. I don’t care. I’m different and I’m bigger. My body has gotten me to the point where I won the Olympics. I’ve won more World Cups than any woman in history. I’m proud of that. That’s what that picture shows in my book. That’s me being proud of myself and my body for what I accomplished. I’m raw. I’m naked. But I’m not showing anything risque.
You’ve worked hard at putting out that message, especially with your foundation.
I’m really proud of it. I’ve always wanted to start my own foundation, but with skiing I didn’t think I had the time to do both. I don’t ever want to do something and not put all my energy into it. But when I got hurt the second time, it was honestly a blessing in disguise because it gave me the opportunity. We’ve got scholarships, camps. The main goal is to teach young girls about self-esteem and teamwork.
Do you believe in the revenge or breakup body? Because you look better than ever.
Thanks. I think it’s just given me more time to spend on myself. That’s what happens with most breakups: You really look at yourself and figure out what makes you happy, and you also have a lot more free time. I’m focusing on my job—my skiing—and I’ve been working really hard. I got a new nutritionist, and I’m just doing everything I can to be in shape for this season. And it’s paying off.
Recently, there was a gossip item about a new guy you were supposedly dating. How does it feel when your personal life is splashed across the tabloids?
It’s almost comical because it’s not even my life. I feel like people just write whatever they want, and it’s funny—even some of my friends who I haven’t seen in a while are like, “Oh my God, are you dating so-and-so?” And I’m like, “No! Are you kidding? I would’ve called you!” Everyone assumes that it’s fact, and it’s not, so I just have to laugh. I mean, if you take all that stuff seriously, then you’ll drive yourself crazy. So I don’t take it seriously. At all.
Like Beyoncé, do you have a Sasha Fierce?
I don’t—it’s not that extreme. [Laughs] But I definitely have more confidence when I’m on the red carpet and in photo shoots because normally I’m a pretty low-key, shy person.
Are you? You don’t seem shy.
Yeah, I’m kind of talkative, but with guys I’m shy. I’m never the person to put myself out there.
Is there anything you want to clear up, rumor-wise?
I’m single, and I probably will be for a while. I think this is just a good time for me to focus on myself. I’m not ready to have a family yet, but I will be at some point.
So you want to have kids?
I definitely do. I love kids. I love working with them. But right now I’m gonna focus on me.
You’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. What’s your recovery process like?
I’m a planner, so when I get injured, I need a plan and a timeline. We map out the next however many months, weeks and days, figure out what needs to be done, and then I get to work right away. I need the light at the end of the tunnel. I need to say, “In this many weeks, I’m gonna be back skiing.” Having goals and mini goals gets me through.
Have you always been very goal-oriented?
Always, since I was a kid. I wanted to make the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake, and I was 17 when I made it. My dad and I had made a five-year plan when I was 12.
Around that same time, your family moved from Minnesota to Vail so you could train competitively. Your siblings had to leave their friends. That’s a lot of pressure.
It was a lot of pressure. The realization that your family basically gave up their lives to move to Colorado so you could follow your dreams was really intense. I always felt as though eventually I’d be in the Olympics and that I would win the Olympics. But I was a kid, so it was kind of like a childish dream. But then when it hit me that my family had given up so much, failure was not an option for me.
We know from your recent Instagram posts that even when you’re on vacation with your friends, you’re still hitting the workouts hard.
I was planning on taking that whole week pretty easy, but then I broke my ankle, so I couldn’t take a week off because I wasn’t going to be able to come back and train really hard, so I was like, “Great, I have to work out on my vacation.” But if I have to work on vacation, I’m gonna at least do it by the pool!
Why are girlfriend trips so important to you?
Because I travel so much, and I never get to see my friends. All of my friends throughout my whole life come together, and we’ve become this awesome group of women. It’s my squad. I mean, it’s not like I have a huge entourage. Unfortunately, I’m not T-Swift. [Laughs] I have, like, seven friends. I don’t have to wear makeup. I don’t have to be someone else. We could literally not say a single word to each other all day and just listen to music and have margaritas, and we would all be perfectly content.
So is it a bad thing to be skinny? Is skinny not beautiful?
No, no, no! My sister is skinny. She could eat a hamburger every single day for the rest of her life and she would still be under a 100 pounds. That is also beautiful. I’m just saying all shapes and sizes are beautiful. It’s all about your perception of yourself and excepting yourself. The message is not skinny is not beautiful. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying you are beautiful no matter what size you are.