Announcing my retirement has been the most difficult reality I have ever faced. My intention wasn’t to announce it the way I did, but when asked the question about how much longer I would continue racing, the answer just poured out of me. At this point in my career I don’t think anyone is surprised by the decision, but saying it out loud and on the record made it real. For as long as I can remember I have never seen a future without skiing. Even when I was five years old, on the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” assignment, I wrote that I wanted to be the greatest skier of all time.
How do I process a life without skiing? What does that mean and how do I move forward? These are all questions I’ve been asking myself. Every decision, every goal, every move I have ever made my entire life has been focused around being the best skier I can be.
But what am I without skiing? Who am I?
As a kid, everything was so simple. I loved going fast. I raced in my first downhill at nine years old against kids much older than I was but I never worried about anything. I was just having fun. I was 12 years old when I first felt pressure to win. It was at the Trofeo Topolino international race in Italy. No American had ever won Topolino and my dad said that every female skier who won had gone on to win at the World Cup level and at the Olympics. I felt immense pressure that if I didn’t win this race, I wouldn’t be good enough and would never make it. I still remember standing in the starting gate—it was snowing and I was so nervous I could barely stand. I just kept telling myself, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this…” until I got to the finish and realized I had won. I learned then that I could handle the pressure and if I wanted something, I could get it. As much as I hate to admit when my dad is right, he was—I went on to win 82 world cups, nine world championship medals, 20 World Cup titles and three Olympic medals…so far anyway!
My dad also said that there would be a time when I had enough of the sport. He’s asked me a few times after injuries if I was at that point yet and my answer had always been an immediate and emphatic, “NO!” Even after two ACL reconstructions, MCL dislocation, multiple meniscal repairs, four tibial plateau fractures, a spiral fracture of my humorous with a plate and 18 screws, a broken ankle, broken fingers and many concussions, I have never questioned my decision to keep skiing.
Throughout my career I have always strived and searched for more. More wins, more speed, more adrenaline and more challenges. That was my resolution, and how I’ve gotten this far in my career. If I had thought quitting was an option or if I had even a sliver of doubt, I would’ve never been able to make those comebacks.
Now, as the oldest Olympic medalist at 34 years old, I’ve come to realize that while I’ve accomplished great things with skiing, I need to look past podiums, goals, and competition and find out what my future looks like without it. I need to accept that I am good enough without skiing because, at this point, my health and my family need to come first. I want to be able to walk without pain, or to (hopefully) teach my own kids how to ski one day. I need to redefine my goals, who I am, and what direction I want my life to take. I know that I can take the persistence, grit, and hard work I’ve learned from skiing and it will translate into success in the other aspects of my life.
I know I’ll get asked about Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins, and that I never got to race against men, but I still am going to work hard to make both possible. I still have one more season left and while I will take it all in and enjoy this year, I will also race with the same intensity and focus that I always have.
Regardless of the record, I am still proud of who I am and what I have accomplished during my career. I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else. I am not the nervous little girl standing on top of a mountain anymore; I am a woman ready for the next chapter. I can do this! My legacy will be more than skiing and there are many chapters left to write.
Thank you to all of my family, friends, and especially to my fans who have supported me on this amazing journey. Cheers to the next chapter!