Throughout her storied skiing career, Lindsey Vonn has overcome her share of obstacles. She’s worked through ankle fractures, knee injuries and a severely fractured arm and has repeatedly bounced back — physically and mentally. Now, the four-time World Cup champion is on a mission to prove female athletes are just as strong as their male counterparts. Aside from training, the professional skier is working to convince the world that she is more than qualified to compete against men. During a sitdown with MyFitnessPal, she revealed her current goal is to race against men during one World Cup event in 2018.
We chatted with Vonn about being part of Under Armour’s Unlike Any campaign, championing the notion that strong is beautiful, and how she’s been able to use past letdowns — such as having to bail out of major global competitions in 2014 — as fuel to keep her moving forward.
“It’s all about being yourself and not being limited by anyone else’s expectations or standards.”
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of Under Armour’s Unlike Any campaign where you get to represent the strength of female athletes?
Vonn: I think it’s awesome. This whole campaign is about being unlike anyone. And my story is my story. I’m strong, I’m powerful, and I’ve also overcome a lot. It’s all about being yourself and not being limited by anyone else’s expectations or standards. This resonates with me personally. I’m very proud to be a part of it and I’m glad it shows not just my strengths but my weaknesses as well and that’s what makes me different.
Q: Tell us about your mission to prove female athletes are just as fierce as males.
Vonn: Women are just as strong, and we can do whatever we put our minds to. It’s not about being subject to a standard that men are the best. We can be just as good. It’s about not limiting yourself. Standards don’t apply. You can be compared against guys, but we are just as strong as them. I’m trying to shake up the standards by competing against men. I’m pushing to actually be in a World Cup race with men. I just want a one-time exemption. I don’t know if it will happen, but I’m sure as heck going to try. For me, that’s a really important part of the campaign because that’s what I’m trying to do.
Q: What is driving you to want to race against men?
Vonn: The whole reason I started thinking about it was because I have been training with men for a really long time. When I was training with them, all the way back in 2012, I was beating some of the best male skiers in the world on a very difficult course. And I thought, why can’t I race against the men? So I’ve been trying to do this since 2012. I feel like in some ways I have earned a certain level of respect in my sport where hopefully I am able to do this. I’ve been on the World Cup for 17 years and I have 77 wins, more wins than any other female in the history of my sport. I think if anyone should be granted an exception, it should be me. But it’s basically 100% men who will be controlling the decision so I don’t know if they are very keen on my plans, but we’ll see.
Q: You talk a lot about the concept of “strong is beautiful.” What does that mean to you?
Vonn: I think the most important thing is just to be confident in yourself. No matter what you may look like on the outside, no matter what your body looks like, as long as you are healthy and you are active and you are confident in yourself, that’s the most important thing. In my book, Strong Is The New Beautiful, I talk about just being comfortable in your own skin. For me it’s been a really difficult thing. I have not always been confident in how I look, but as soon as you accept “this is my body. It can do amazing things for me; I just have to treat it right,” it will give a lot back to you; more than you think. So I think it’s just believing in yourself and believing in that strength you have and that internal strength will definitely be seen outward as well.
Q: Did your insecurity stem from comparing your body type to females outside of the athletic world?
Vonn: Yeah. When I was in the skiing world, we were all very similar body types so I never really thought I was different. After I won major global events, I was on the red carpet and I realized I didn’t look like anyone. And I didn’t fit in and so that’s when I started questioning myself and the way I looked. It definitely got in my head for a really long time, but I got over it and I learned to accept who I am and how I look. No matter what I do, I’m never going to look like the movie stars on the red carpet, but that’s fine. I’m beautiful just the way I am and my strong body has allowed me to do incredible things in my life so I respect my body and I respect what it’s been able to give me.
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Q: What do you love most about your body?
Vonn: My legs. They are strong. I like when I’ve been working out all summer. In the fall, I’m always my biggest leading up to the season because we always lose weight during the season. So in the fall, I’m always really bulky. For some reason, when I get toned in my legs, I feel really strong. It gives me a certain mental confidence and I like that.
Q: You proudly show off your scars in the Unlike Any campaign video. How have you learned to embrace them?
Vonn: Well I think it would be probably a pretty substantial surgery to get rid of this scar (laughs). I put oils and scar creams on it; it doesn’t really go away. But at the same time, it’s a battle scar. I don’t necessarily want it to be completely gone. That’s a part of me now. I’ve got a huge metal rod in my arm that sticks out of my elbow and it’s just a constant reminder that I am stronger than I think I am. Now I’m actually a bionic woman. I’m indestructible.
Q: What’s your training routine like? Are you doing anything different?
Vonn: I just have to be smarter with what I do. With all my injuries and the fact I’m just physically getting older, I just have to do everything in a very diligent and smart way. I can’t have the super high volume. I have to make sure I have enough recovery and rest time. My training on hill is not as rigorous as it used to be because the volume is too high for my knees. I just need to be smart.
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Q: What about your mental preparation?
Vonn: My mental preparation is that I personally get strength from all of the training that I do and knowing that I am as strong as I can be. That’s what gives me strength. As long as I know I’m giving it my best, then I’ll have confidence when I’m at the starting gate. I visualize the course 100 times before I race but the most important thing is the summer preparation and putting in the hard work because that gives me the mental strength to really be confident in myself at the start. If you cut corners, it’s always in the back of your head and you don’t always 100% believe in yourself.
Q: Is there a mantra or something that runs through your head before you are ready to compete?
Vonn: I kind of compartmentalize things like my injuries and missing major global events in 2014. I remember the emotions. I bottle it up and then when I am at the starting gate, I kind of let everything out and I use those emotions to fuel me. All the disappointment and frustration, that all gets bottled up and then I can let it all out. It’s just 110% self-belief that I will do it, that I will succeed.
Q: What’s the secret to mentally working through an injury and getting back in the game?
Vonn: There are two things that I think are really important when coming back from an injury. Number 1 is you have to have a good support system. I have friends and family and sponsors. It’s really important to know people are going to be behind you through the process. If you feel like everyone is jumping ship then it kind of puts your despair even lower and makes it feel impossible to come back. Having that support system is really important. The second thing is simply working hard. That’s the number 1 thing that is going to get you back from injury.
BE UNLIKE ANY WITH THESE COLLECTIONS
> Lindsey Vonn, World Champion Alpine Ski Racer
> Zoe Zhang, Actress & Taekwondo Black Belt
> Jessie Graff, Stunt Woman
> Alison Desir, Harlem Run Founder
> Misty Copeland, Principal Ballerina
> Natasha Hastings, World Champion Sprinter
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