By Nancy Armour |
Lindsey Vonn’s legacy was secured long ago. No additional race, win or even record will change that.
After failing to finish a Super-G race in Cortina, Italy, Vonn said she might have to consider retiring now. She had hoped to keep skiing until December so she can finish her career at her beloved Lake Louise and maybe surpass Ingemar Stenmark’s mark for all-time World Cup victories. But her knees are shot, two decades of flying down mountains having exacted their toll.
She said Wednesday that her latest injury is to her peroneal nerve and she’s trying to find a solution.
“I remain hopeful that we can fix it,” Vonn said on Instagram. “I’m taking things day by day and we will see what happens. I know that I might not get the ending to my career that I had hoped for, but if there is a chance, I will take it.”
It’s understandable that Vonn is exhausting every last possibility to keep going. Skiing has been her life for the better part of three decades, and it’s provided her with wealth, fame and experiences most people can only dream of.
But there will be a life after skiing and, having just turned 34 in October, it will be a long one. Risking further damage to her knees, or any other body part, isn’t worth it. Retirement is supposed to be enjoyed, not spent in agony.
Besides, what is there left to prove? She has an Olympic gold medal, from the downhill in Vancouver, as well as two bronzes. She won the overall World Cup title four times, and her 20 season titles are the most by any skier, male or female.
In addition to her overall titles, she won eight in downhill, five in Super-G and three in the combined.
Her 82 World Cup titles are second only to Stenmark’s record of 86. By any measure, she will be remembered as one of the greatest skiers ever, male or female, American or European.
Plus, records and rankings are fleeting. Even if Vonn would pass Stenmark, there’s no telling how long she’d have that mark with the way fellow American Mikaela Shiffrin is piling up wins. A couple of years, perhaps, maybe five.
That wouldn’t change what Vonn has meant to the sport, though, because her legacy is about so much more than her skiing.
Along with Bode Miller, Vonn was the first American skier to achieve true crossover celebrity status. But, unlike Miller, Vonn embraced the spotlight and the platform it gave her. Whether it was skiing in superhero racing suits or appearing in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition, Vonn let women and girls everywhere know that being strong and powerful was something to celebrate, not shy away from.
She challenged the idea that female athletes were, in any way, lesser than their male counterparts. She trained with men and pushed to race against them. She was vocal in her criticism of the International Ski Federation for what she considered outdated and sexist attitudes. She posted videos of workouts that would make most men’s knees buckle.
Vonn also was the portrait of perseverance, battling back from horrific injuries multiple times.
At the same time, she wasn’t afraid to show her vulnerability. She was among the first athletes to talk openly about mental health issues, saying back in 2012 that she battled depression. When her dog Lucy became something of a celebrity herself during last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, Vonn said part of the reason she took the spaniel everywhere with her was to ward off loneliness.
Vonn has spoken often about the impact meeting Picabo Street had on her, and how she hopes she, too, can inspire little girls. Some might grow up to be ski racers, others CEOs. But they’ll be forces to be reckoned with no matter which path they choose because of the example Vonn set.
“I would like to be able to say and encourage young women to be the best that they can be, that there’s no limitations just because you’re a woman,” she said last year in Pyeongchang.
Vonn might want to remember that as she weighs her options. There’s a whole other life beyond the mountains. Retiring now simply gives her the chance to explore it sooner.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.