Lindsey Vonn, Fast Forward

Aside from this Lindsey Vonn article and photoshoot, if  you’ve been wondering what Lindsey Vonn has been up to since retiring from racing, you’d better sit down. By her own admission, the former Olympian is busier than ever juggling a long and varied list of projects. Among them are her ongoing work with the Lindsey Vonn Foundation – she’s big into supporting STEM education for girls at the moment – Rise, her memoir that she’s been working on with writer Dan Paisner, a feature film she’s executive producing with Robert Redford and Pete Berg, Ladder, a nutrition supplement brand she co-founded with Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James and Cindy Crawford, continued collaboration with Under Armour and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Project Rock, and a proprietary line of beauty products – to name a few.

“The biggest thing for me is that I want to be more than just a skier and an athlete,” says Lindsey Vonn. “I’ve always wanted that.”

For those of you who don’t know – i.e. if you’ve been living on the moon – the Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion in all five disciplines of Alpine skiing, holder of the world record for women with eighty-two World Cup wins, including four overall World Cup titles, stepped off the podium for the last time earlier this year, ending one of the greatest ski racing careers ever.

Retirement is a tricky thing for most of us to consider. For athletes – particularly ones that have been such dominant competitors – the mere thought of it is almost always prompted by an acute physical reckoning that your superhero body can no longer be pushed and punished; followed by the devastating acceptance that the one thing you have focused all of your attention and energy on for as long as you can remember is probably not going to be a part of your life anymore.

“Even though I knew retirement was coming, I thought I would ski forever,” says Lindsey Vonn. “There’s a lot of emotion and decision-making after an injury that people don’t know about. I’ve been injured so many times and everyone expects me to come back. This time, I was faced with more obstacles than I could overcome. It was tough to experience.”

Tougher still, in front of the camera. When Lindsey Vonn teamed up with renowned action sports media company Teton Gravity Research (TGR) last year to document her final season, she hoped the story would be about an amazing finish when she conquered it all and broke a world record. Instead, it was a story of injuries and retirement, one which Lindsey Vonn – ever fearless – really wants us to see.

“No matter who’s filming, it’s always a delicate situation,” says Vonn. “There were some really tough moments.”

Though she has nothing but praise for the TGR team, Lindsey Vonn’s childhood friend Clare Brown, who is also Vonn’s partner in her production company Après, filmed the most personal moments of the documentary – moments when Vonn, by her own admission, didn’t want anyone around, including her family with whom she is famously close.

Speaking about the film, which premiers on HBO next month, executive vice president of HBO Sports Peter Nelson said, “There are a lot of athlete documentaries today, but this film, at once heartbreaking and inspiring, takes us places unseen with an elite athlete, revealing the sacrifice demanded of a champion confronting her human limits to end an unparalleled career.”

I’m reminded of the opening sequence of ABC’s Wide World of Sports – that chilling footage of Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj’s spectacular crash, and the iconic words narrated by Jim McKay, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. The fact Bogataj survived that accident may well be the reason many of us – including elite athletes – have such unrealistic expectations.

“A lot of women on the tour publicly criticized me for creating drama – that my injuries were just for drama,” Lindsey Vonn says. “It was kinda shocking. I would’ve rather been healthy my whole career, but you take the card that you’re dealt.”

“Successful people are passionate about what they do, so it doesn’t feel like a job”

These days, Vonn is taking as many cards as she can.

“The transition was harder than I expected,” Vonn says. “It’s not so much that I missed skiing – though I do miss it – for me it was more waking up and not having that one goal that had been driving me. I felt like I was getting lazy mentally and panicked a bit, and called my agent and asked them to book me to do something immediately.”

From participating in a Harvard Business School program to meeting with CEOs and business leaders, to diving head first into start-up opportunities that Vonn says are “harder than people think” – she admits Ladder, focused on nutrition and wellness, which have been a big part of her life, was a steep learning curve – Vonn seems to be on a mission to find a new bliss.

Of her current projects, Vonn is most excited about her beauty products. As one of the first women on the tour to wear make-up – “I got a lot of shit for that at the time” –  it was important to her to develop a collection specifically for active women that will protect their skin without causing break-outs, and do as much as possible in as few steps as possible. Launching in the spring, the line (whose name was still under wraps as this issue went to press) will include tinted moisturizer with SPF, eyeliner, lip balm, glow drops, and a signature scent.

“Successful people are passionate about what they do, so it doesn’t feel like a job,” Vonn says. “I’m working to find something I’m just as passionate about – I need to have that fire and drive and passion I had when I was skiing to be successful outside of the sport.”

Like many skiers, Vonn is also passionate about the environment. “I’ve seen the effects of climate change first-hand – for us it’s a way of living and it’s been more and more difficult to come by these days,” she says. “In developing my beauty line, it’s all sustainable and most of the ingredients are organic – there is always an environmental thought to everything I do.” For Vonn, it’s not so much about advocacy as standing by her values – simply, she fights for the things that are important to her, no matter what. Afterall, Vonn is a fierce competitor, wired to win.

So, what does winning look like for Vonn now that she’s off the slopes?

“I think it’s giving my best to something and working as hard as I can,” she says, acknowledging that success in business is not always easily defined, and rarely as tangible as winning a world cup.

“Rise will be my second book – my first was a New York Times bestseller. My documentary is coming out in November, and I hope the ratings are good and people enjoy it, that it’s a success. Basically, it’s doing the best I can to make a good product that people like – what I’ve learned is business is all about the customer and trying to make them happy.”

Reflecting on something Vonn told me earlier, I am particularly moved by her humility, which to me at least seems almost antithetical to being a warrior athlete. But like she says, sometimes failure teaches us more than success.

“My brand is simple,” Vonn says. “What you see is what you get. My way of thinking is let my skiing speak for itself – my work ethic is what carries through, and my values.

“Eventually, I want people to think ‘wow she used to be a skier, now she’s so successful in business’ – I want to be even more successful than I was as a skier. The challenge and the thrill of that drives me.”