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Lindsey Vonn just taught us an important lesson about the power of stepping back

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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“I’m not giving up! I’m just starting a new chapter.”

In the world of skiing, no athlete garners as much respect as Lindsey Vonn.

The 34-year-old American is the first female racer to win a medal at six world championships, has 82 World Cup victories under her belt and three medals at separate Winter Olympics, one of them gold. On 10 February she won the last medal of her career, bronze, in the World Championships in Sweden. That victory, along with the many others she already has, makes her the most decorated female athlete in the history of skiing.

Which is why Vonn was given the Spirit of Sport Award at the Laureus Ceremony – often dubbed the ‘Oscars of sport’ – in Monaco this week. The award comes after Vonn’s announcement of her retirement from competition after the recent World Championships, in large part because of the toll that repeated and debilitating injuries have taken on her body.

As the crowd at the awards ceremony rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation, Vonn blinked back tears from the podium. “I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry anymore,” Vonn said through her tears. “It’s really weird to be retiring. But I’m so honoured to be in this room.” 

“I’ve been inspired by so many of you over the course of my career. I think sports has the unique opportunity to change people in ways they never expected,” she said.

“My comebacks have always made me a stronger person and I’m very sad to be leaving my sport, but I know that because of everything I’ve learned, I can take that into the next chapter of my life and do something even more incredible.”

Vonn, alongside Serena Williams and Simone Biles, is part of a wave of female athletes who have used their platform to speak openly and transparently about the emotional and psychological impact of competitive racing.

When announcing her retirement in an Instagram post on 1 February, Vonn detailed her in-depth decision process when it came to taking a step back from the sport she loves. “It’s been an emotional two weeks making the hardest decision of my life,” Vonn wrote. “But I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing.” 

This is because the past few years of Vonn’s career has been marred by several terrifying injuries. There was the torn ligaments and broken bones in the lead up to the 2018 Sochi Winter Olympics, the irreparable damage to cartilage, the surgery to reconstruct both of her knees, and then there was the crash during competition on 5 February that saw her careen face-first down the mountain and into a safety gate.

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn wrote on Instagram. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”

Vonn’s story is one of perseverance, resilience and comeback. Over the 19-year span of her career, she has competed immediately after crashes because she was chasing Olympic gold and fought back from severe injury to soar to some of the highest heights any female athlete has achieved in her discipline. 

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Before her retirement, Vonn was chasing five more World Cup victories to make her the most decorated skier in history, and not reaching that goal “is what will stay with [Vonn] forever.”

“However, I can look back,” she wrote, “and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in history has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of forever!”

She continued: “I always say ‘Never give up!’ to all the kids out there, to my fans who have sent me messages of encouragement to keep going… I need to tell you that I’m not giving up! I’m just starting a new chapter. Don’t lose faith in your dreams, keep fighting for what you love, and if you always give everything you have you’ll be happy no matter what the outcome.” 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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