Dec. 6, 2014, was a good day to sit down with Lindsey Vonn. Her return to competition after a knee injury that crushed her Sochi Olympic dreams in February saw the star skier lead an American sweep in the World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, on Dec. 6. Vonn, a gold and bronze medalist in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, started her career in Minnesota, a state not known for its long ski runs. But a move to Colorado and later making friends with her physical therapist has kept this 30-year-old downhill racer in the snowy spotlight.
It seems cliché to ask, but I need to know how you got into skiing?
I grew up skiing. I started when I was 21/2 because my dad was a ski racer, so growing up I was always skiing. I started at a place called Buck Hill in Minnesota, which was only 300 vertical feet. They had to land-fill to make the vertical. I started racing when I was 7 years old, and by the time I was 9, my dad said I had a lot of talent. So we moved out to Vail, Colo., when I was 11.
The big story right now is your return to competition after injury. Tell me what happened.
The first injury in February 2013 was an MCL-ACL tibial plateau fracture [torn knee ligaments coupled with a knee fracture] and the second the following November was ACL meniscus.... One was during the World Championships and the other was right before the Olympics. To miss out on a race that happens once every four years is extremely disappointing.
Psychologically, I didn't have any doubts after the first injury because I knew I had enough time to get back for the 2014 Olympics. But then with the second injury, which happened right before the Olympics, it was a lot more difficult to overcome mentally. It took me quite a few weeks to get over that hump and focus more on the positives and the future and my goals for my career.
But here you are, just a year later, winning. How did you bounce back so fast?
I think it was a lot of things that enabled me to bounce back. It was conditioning and hard work and good physical therapy and a little bit more patience. There is a lot that goes into coming back from injury, and I'm thankful I had the right people around me to help me get strong again.
I owe a lot to Lindsay Winninger, my physical therapist. We are like sisters.
Share with me some of the details of your rehabilitation.
You have to build the strength back. I had no muscle; it had severely atrophied. I started off with just trying to walk. It took me a few weeks just to get off of crutches. I didn't start doing the stationary bike until the second week.
There were also things like leg extensions and single-leg squats: anything to get the muscle to build up as fast as possible. Single-leg squats are possibly the best thing to do because you have to make the muscles rebuild. If the muscles aren't strong enough, they won't be able to support the new ligament.
How do you feel coming off this win in Lake Louise?
I feel great. It couldn't have gotten any better today than it did. It was pretty much perfect for me. And to have the second race back to win and have my teammates on the podium with me was a really amazing moment. And I'm really thankful for everyone supporting me. Being able to get back here so quickly after the second surgery is pretty awesome. I'm exciting for the rest of the season and slowly building my way back into the World Cup.