LONDON (Reuters) – A career spent hurtling at speeds of 80mph down precipitous mountain slopes meant crashes, and serious injury, were part of life for American Alpine skiing great Lindsey Vonn.
Weeks, even months, of painful rehab work while laid up at home took their toll, so Vonn, perhaps, has more experience than most about keeping body and mind together in the bad times.
Now retired, the former Olympic champion is spared the anxiety experienced by elite athletes currently left in limbo by the shutdown of world sport during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her fiance, NHL player P.K. Subban, is one of them though and she can relate to their angst.
“It’s not just they can’t play their sport, they don’t even know when it will pick back up again,” Vonn, who is keeping busy by hosting a live and interactive fitness session on the Wellness Coach platform https://www.meditation.live at 1500GMT on Thursday, told Reuters from her LA home via Zoom.
“You look at hockey or basketball where they are in their season. There is that waiting. Should I train hard now or taper my plan, rest now, then be ready in a month to go again.
“There is no timeline, no gauge, everything’s up in the air. Everyone is lost and unsure of what to do. Athletes are used to having breaks, but no-one knows whether this is a break. The uncertainty is mentally very difficult.”
Having been at four Winter Olympics, winning downhill gold in Vancouver in 2010, Vonn understands the emotions of those affected by the delay of the Tokyo Games, especially those in the twilight of their careers.
“My last Olympics (in 2018) I was already at a time where my career was near its end,” she said. “If that had been delayed by a year I don’t think I would have known where I would have been.
“Maybe for young athletes (the delay) it’s not so critical, but for people who are in their peak ready to go, they may not be at their peak in a year’s time.
“Everybody has to make adaptations, the results will be different to what they would have been but that’s the reality we have to accept. Athletes must just stay positive.”
While current circumstances are tough for elite athletes, Vonn is fully aware of the toll on everyone which is why she hopes to help people exercise while hunkered down.
“I had depression, so it’s really been difficult,” she said. “Some days I can’t find the motivation to do anything. Working out at home is the thing that keeps me going, gives me those endorphins you need so desperately.
“Not everyone has a bike, or even a bike at home, so giving people options to work out without equipment is important. Lots of people just don’t know what to do, they are anxious, depressed, stuck and need guidance.”
Vonn, widely regarded as the greatest female ski racer in history with 82 World Cup wins across all disciplines, will host a Q&A session along with Wellness Coach co-founder Julie Sharma at the end of the online workout.
“I’m really excited about this and that it’s a female founded company which is incredibly inspirational,” Vonn, who had a minor scare this week when she ricked her back playing with pet dog Leo, said.
“Wellness Coach is a perfect opportunity to share the things I’m doing at home to stay healthy.”
The online workout is free but 20% of future subscriptions will go towards Vonn’s chosen charity Meals on Wheels.
“My grandma is in a Memory Care unit in Wisconsin and those meals are so important to so many fragile and vulnerable people at the moment,” Vonn said.
Vonn counts herself lucky that she walks her dogs in the Californian sunshine during the lockdown and that she has her fiance for company. Life without sport, however, feels weird.
“We’re just watching replays of Kobe (Bryant) or MJ (Michael Jordan) on TV, it’s very monotonous,” says Vonn. “When sport gets going again I think it will signal some normality.
“Of course it’s going to be different from here on out, but sport is something that unites us and gives us hope.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis