Don’t cry for Shiffrin as she continues to push forward, wants others to do same

Ross Leonhart
Vail Daily
Mikaela Shiffrin is overcome with emotions in the finish area of the World Cup giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Dec. 14, her first win in nearly a year.
Marco Trovati / AP file photo

Mikaela Shiffrin doesn’t need to talk about planning — when she was in kindergarten, she planned on being a baseball player, not a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion.

So there’s no need to try to predict the future for the upcoming Beijing Olympics in 2022 or the prospect of catching (more) all-time records in the sport. She knows that plans can change, such as they did dramatically ahead of the 2020-21 World Cup season that recently wrapped up last month in Europe.

“This season was so different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my career,” Shiffrin said Friday while home in Eagle County recovering from the season. “When you couple the pandemic with having it be the first season that I’ve competed without my dad watching over and helping make sure that things are OK … it was definitely something different. And it would have been different even if COVID didn’t happen, but then COVID happened and it was like a double-whammy.”

Jeff Shiffrin died in February of 2020 after a home accident.

FIS canceled all North American World Cup ski races and added COVID-19 protocols to put on this season in Europe.

“One thing that I’ve always believed — and I think it is something my parents taught me — is that I can plan for the future, but beyond preparing for what’s coming, I don’t think so much about the future,” Shiffrin said. “I want to be able to win now, and if I win enough, then I could get close to (other records). It’s possible … but not the thing I’m shooting for. Who knows if I’m going to win another 20 races, but I’m able to win now, so why don’t I just focus on what I can do now?”

Getting back to winning, but more importantly racing

Shiffrin, 26, said she is thankful for the World Cup season happening and that for her it wasn’t all about wins and podiums.

“I didn’t win 17 races this season (like 2018-19), but there was a lot that I am almost more proud of,” she said. “Even getting back on my skis and getting back in the start gate, winning races again. Having four medals at the world championships — that was something I definitely did not expect.”

Shiffrin has said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to return to ski racing following the tragedy in her personal life, so this season was more about doing the best she could.

“Sometimes you need to just sit down and be grateful for what you have been able to accomplish,” she said. “This was one of those seasons where I wasn’t asking for more, I am just doing the best I can. It’s kind of weird but in a way all of the awful stuff that’s happened in my personal life over the last couple of years has given me a little more of a grateful feeling for this season somehow being able to go to Europe, travel and ski.”

Mikaela Shiffrin gets to the finish area of the World Cup giant slalom in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on March 21. Shiffrin will be heading out April 16 from Eagle County to start the first training program of the offseason in California.
Marco Trovati / AP file photo

On Dec. 14, Shiffrin won her first race in nearly a year with an emotional performance in the giant slalom in Courchevel, France. She won four medals at the world championships in February, becoming the most decorated American in world champs history with 11 total medals and six golds, surpassing records of Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn.

“You know, I had some fun,” she said looking back at the season.

Keeping that toughness

Shiffrin is learning the power of being resilient through the storms of life. She is nominated for the Laureus World Sports Comeback of the Year Award for her respectable return to the sport this season.

Along with her family and support from friends, Shiffrin launched the Jeff Shiffrin Resiliency Fund to help support all U.S. ski team athletes financially during the trying year of COVID. The fund exceeded its goal and raised over $3 million that went toward flights, gear, training and more for more than 200 athletes.

“I’ve only just started to realize in the past year or so just how much (resiliency) does play a role, not only in my life but literally in everybody’s,” she said.

In addition to raising millions, the Jeff Shiffrin Resiliency Fund also brought out more stories of perseverance from Shiffrin’s teammates, competitors and athletes from all over the world. People with no connection to ski racing supported the cause, because of the message of resiliency. The fund raised a total of $3,075,899 from 19 different countries and 39 states, with Colorado and New York amassing the most donations.

“To me, resiliency is the ability to experience something really difficult — hardship, pain, struggle — to experience that, and to get to the other side of it, holding on to some form of strength or purpose,” Shiffrin shared on the fundraising page. “And it doesn’t mean you were the same person that you were before … but you keep that strength, you keep that toughness or that determination you had before.”

Shiffrin, who has won 17 World Cup races in a season before, showed her strength, toughness and determination this season simply by being out there — and frequently finishing on or near the podium.

“People just connected with it,” she said of the message of resiliency. “The thing is that every person on the planet has gone through something difficult. … Plans change. Life changes. A lot of times it’s incredibly tragic and difficult, but you can’t choose what transitions come your way. I have found that connecting with people about the resilience that they’ve needed in their life has been one of the things that makes me feel better and stronger myself. In a moment where I don’t feel strong enough to get out of bed because I’m overwhelmingly sad, I hear about someone talk about a moment that they’ve had to overcome and got out of bed anyway — it’s that little bit of strength that I need. When I don’t have the strength to carry on, maybe somebody else can give me a little bit of that. And when they don’t, then maybe I can give a little bit to them.”

More than a skier

Outside of skiing, Shiffrin works with the Kindness Wins Foundation, a nonprofit that celebrates and recognizes acts of kindness. She partnered with the local Mountain Youth’s He(art) of the Vail Valley Youth initiative in July to talk virtually about how she uses arts such as singing and dancing to support her mental health.

She’s also busy traveling the world and working on fun projects with her sponsors, such as her four recent days spent in Austria with Adidas and Longines. She recently celebrated Carbonara Day with her longtime sponsor Barilla — the company seen plastered on the front of her helmet on race day. She’s been loving the comfort of Land Rover while traveling and the different styles of Oakley, as well as Bose headphones under that helmet.

“I really enjoy working with every single one of my sponsors,” she said. “I’m surrounded by companies that have really great people.”

Her music lineup these days is a lot of Taylor Swift, but Jason Derulo’s “Don’t Cry For Me” has been a popular one lately. With lyrics like “somebody told me I was done, I’m still pickin’ up the pieces from when I was number 1” and “if you thought I was down, if you thought I was losin’ sleep, well I’m still goin’ hard eight days a week” — it’s easy to see why it’s popular on Shiffrin’s playlist.

“That is one of my favorite songs right now,” she said of “Don’t Cry For Me.” “It’s so good, and Jason Derulo is just crushing it.”

So don’t cry for Shiffrin — she’s pushing through with the help of her family, friends, coaches and teammates, and she wants you to be resilient, too.