Lindsey Kildow can’t be stopped
Four years of hard work. Four whole years. Some 1,460 days, 35,000 hours and more than two million minutes. There were the long, grueling sessions in the gym. And the offseason training camps in South America and Europe. And the three full World Cup seasons spent sharpening, honing, perfecting.Then, in just a few seconds, all of it was lost.There was no way Lindsey Kildow was going to race again last February at the Winter Olympics. Her dream of winning a gold medal lay in pieces on the hard, icy downhill course in Sestriere, Italy, following a disastrous training-run crash.In one instant there was Kildow, the determined 21-year-old from Vail, channeling speed and taming peril while tearing down the mountain at more than 50 miles per hour. Then, in a blink, catastrophe. Her left ski slid out from underneath her and forced her into a vulnerable split. Her momentum sent her spiraling 15 feet through the air before she slammed down on her back and head, then slid awkwardly to a stop.The cruel reality of ski racing is that, possibly more than any other sport, the tiniest of mistakes can have life-altering consequences. When she arrived at the hospital 50 miles away in Turin after being taken off the mountain by helicopter, doctors first thought Kildow’s back was broken, possibly that her ski racing career was over. Even when it was discovered that she had broken no bones, just severely bruised her lower back and her hip, no one believed Kildow would be back to race on the downhill course two days later.
But there were those four years. How could she not race with how much she had sacrificed? How could she quit now?A visit from her childhood idol only steeled her more to get out of bed and get back on her skis.Picabo Street – who once returned to racing barely two years after breaking her left femur in nine different places and shredding her ACL in the other leg – wasn’t going to let Lindsey Kildow give up on herself. She wasn’t going to let her give up her dream.”When she first came to me in the hospital we both started crying,” said Kildow in a recent interview via e-mail. “It was a very emotional moment for both of us. She has been through some extremely tough injuries in her career and she understood how I felt. She stayed really positive and supportive the entire time because she knew that’s what I needed.”Kildow didn’t end up on the podium two days later when, covered in bruises, she pushed out of the downhill starting gates to stare down danger once again. But, considering the circumstances, Kildow’s eighth-place finish was arguably more impressive – a display of true mettle, in spite of no medal to show for it.Nearly nine months later, with another World Cup season just beginning, Kildow has mixed emotions when she looks back at the Olympics. She’d love to have that ill-fated training run back, but at the same time the ordeal has only made her more determined.”I am not entirely bitter about the experience,” she said. “The way I am looking at it is that every Olympics is a valuable learning experience and I will be that much more prepared for Vancouver [in 2010]. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, so I can only hope that [Turin] was meant to make me stronger.”
Strong in body and mindAfter her trying season, Kildow took a month off to let her back fully heal, then went back to work with a new personal trainer. Unlike previous offseasons, she spent nearly four months off snow. It was a needed respite, Kildow said.She found time to travel to her native Minnesota to visit family and friends. She played lots of tennis with her boyfriend, former racer Thomas Vonn, and did some summer reading.Make that some very serious summer reading. Kildow’s favorite was Alan Paton’s acclaimed novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country,” which depicts South Africa’s growing racial strife in the 1940s. She also polished off Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms” and, if that wasn’t enough, found time to touch up on her German.As for the work with her trainer, Kildow believes she is stronger than ever heading into this World Cup season. When she returned to the snow at training camps in New Zealand and Chile at the end of the summer, it only took her a day to get up to speed, she said.On Oct. 17, while training for the opening World Cup races in Soelden, Austria – which were ultimately canceled because of bad weather – Kildow took a bad fall on a patch of ice, but escaped without serious injury.
Her knee popped into her chin, causing her to bite her tongue, and she bruised one of her knees. The cancellation of the races was actually a blessing. It gave her time to recover and get in some more on-snow training at Keystone these past two weeks. Heading into Sunday’s opening women’s slalom in Levi, Finland, she feels confident.”I feel that all the work I have been doing with my new trainer is really paying off,” said Kildow, who skis all five World Cup disciplines but excels in the speed events. “I am stronger and more prepared than I have ever been… Some specific goals I have set for the season are to try and win a medal at the world championships and also to try and win an overall World Cup discipline title.” The latter is something Kildow came close to achieving last season, finishing second in the final downhill standings after winning two races in the discipline. She was also second in the final downhill of the season at World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden – the site of this year’s World Championships.Just like the Olympics, Kildow had a forgettable experience at the last World Championships in 2005 in Bormio, Italy. She struggled with high expectations, finishing just off the podium in downhill and combined, and was ninth in super G.The high expectations are still there, but she’s grown more adept at dealing with them, Kildow said. She’s the first to admit that she is her own toughest critic.”I don’t feel like I have any problems dealing with other people’s expectations,” she said. “I am always trying to get better or be stronger or go faster in some way and sometimes I am tough on myself when I don’t meet my own expectations. My boyfriend is really good at making me realize that sometimes you just have bad days and that it is nothing to panic about because tomorrow is another day and a fresh start. I have gotten a lot better at dealing with my own expectations.”But,” she adds, “as always, I am still learning.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.