If you’d like to achieve Olympic success in business, you can learn a few things from Lindsey Vonn. She is  the most decorated female skier on the planet, having won 81 World Cup races and four World Cup championships. However, despite the fact that she made her first Olympic appearance in 2002, at age 17, she only holds one gold and one bronze medal, both from 2010. In 2006, she crashed hard during a training run at the Games, only two days before competition. Still in excruciating pain, she managed to compete and place 8th. After medaling in 2010, she set her sights on the 2014 Olympics, only to blow out her knee during the World Championships in 2013. Unable to recover in time for the Games in Sochi, she was forced to watch, helping NBC as a commentator. Now, eight years after her last Olympics, she is back at full strength and determined to succeed. At age 33, she could become the oldest woman to win an Olympic Alpine medal.

How has Lindsey succeeded despite the adversity?

Lindsey’s parents laid the foundation of her irrepressible strength. Her dream of Olympic gold really began with her dad, Alan Kildow, a former championship skier himself. He put her on skis when she was only 2, and within a few years she was training with an Olympic coach and winning races. Never mind that her home course of Buck Hill, Minnesota isn’t exactly a hotbed of Olympic greatness!

Lindy Lund, Lindsey’s mother, set her children a true example of resilience. She had a stroke while giving birth to Lindsey, resulting in a loss of mobility that kept her from getting up the mountain to see Lindsey’s races. It was a busy household, with five children and two working parents and road trips to Vail for ski races. However, “I never once heard her complain about her stroke,” says Lindsey, who observed her mother’s indomitable spirit and applied it to her own many falls on the race course.

Lindsey’s dream of gold

Lindsey Vonn wins gold in Vancouver Olympics, 2010

Early on, Lindsey fell in love with skiing. She began talking of her dream to “win more gold medals than any woman had ever won”, even practicing her autograph – and she was eight years old. At age 11, her mother moved with her to Vail, where she could get more training, and the rest of the family joined them at the end of the year. Although the odds are astronomically against young athletes ever making it to Olympic levels of success, Lindsey’s parents sacrificed to give her the chance.

There have been plenty of challenges in Lindsey’s personal life. Her parents’ sacrifice took its toll, and they divorced when she was 17. At around the same time, Lindsey met and began dating a fellow skier, Thomas Vonn, who was nine years older than she. Their marriage a few years later resulted in a years-long estrangement from her father, who disapproved of the relationship. However, after the four-year marriage ended in divorce, the rift between father and daughter began to heal.  

Physical challenges

Physically, she has overcome obstacles that would have crushed a less driven soul. The list of injuries – and surgeries – that she has endured staggers the mind. Spectacular wipeouts at high speeds have resulted in torn ligaments, blown-out knees, severed tendons, fractures, sprains, concussions, nerve damage…and a tremendous amount of pain. After each injury, Lindsey determinedly followed rehab plans designed to strengthen her body even as she healed.

Dan Hicks, who covers Alpine skiing for NBC Sports, said, “She’s just beyond anything that I’ve seen in sports. Somebody that’s done what she’s done, got hurt like she’s gotten hurt and gotten back up on the hill. You just don’t see that.”

Lindsey is known for her grueling training regimen, one that fellow competitors describe as “totally insane.” It begins before breakfast and goes through late afternoon, six days a week, putting her through sequences of weight lifting and other strength exercises, cycling, balance, boxing, and flexibility. She adheres to a high-protein diet, staying away from desserts and alcohol, and carefully monitors her sleep schedule. In addition to the winter competition season, she keeps training during the whole year, with very little time off.

Ten tips for achieving Olympic success in business

1. Look past seemingly impossible odds to find the possibilities.

Lindsey – and her parents – knew that very few young athletes make it to the top of the their sport, but they looked for ways to help it happen: trips to Vail and eventually moving there, finding the best coaches, traveling overseas for competition, even having Lindsey do school online so she could train.

What about you? Attaining Olympic success in business might seem impossible to reach. Try asking yourself this question: “If this weren’t impossible, what would have to happen to make it work?” This frees your mind to think of more creative solutions. Allow your mind to entertain more “out of the box” thoughts, and you’ll be amazed at the ideas that come flooding in. 

2. Do what your competitors aren’t willing to do.

For Olympic success in business, think like an Olympian. Lindsey adheres to a strict training routine that affects every area of her life. She knows that in order to reach her dream of being the best skier in the world, she has to keep doing the things that will keep her on top of her game. When her friends are at concerts or celebrating holidays, she sticks to her plan and does the little things every day that will maximize her performance.

If your competitors go into to “holiday mode” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, take advantage! The holidays are a great time to keep working and close more business.

3. Don’t quit at the first bump in the road.

Even though Lindsey loved skiing, there were challenges. For one thing, it’s hard to relate to other kids when you’re competing in older age brackets and winning.  “That was not the greatest way to make new friends,” she says. “I would finish a race and all the 14-year-olds at the bottom would be crying because a 10-year-old had beaten them.”

For another thing, moving away from family and friends back in Minnesota was hard. “Vail was wonderful to me,” Lindsey says, “but I missed all the traditional things of childhood — sleepovers, school dances, making friends in a conventional way. Halfway through the second season, the rest of the family also moved to Vail. Now all my brothers and sisters had left their friends for me. That was stressful on them. I felt so guilty.”

(Lindsey may have missed out on typical school events, but when she was 27, she got a surprise invitation from a teenage boy to a high school dance. See her classy response here…

When you’re striving for your goals, the path will not be smooth and effortless. Expect bumps in the road, and don’t let them discourage you. Stay focused on where you want to be.

4. Ignore the haters.

Being very much in the public eye, Lindsey has learned to limit her exposure to watching the news, reading newspapers and magazines, and surfing social media. Not everyone is a fan of her political views, going so far as wish she would break her neck because she is “anti-Trump.” But she gives an articulate defense, explaining that she hopes to represent the American people, rather than the government. And on at least one occasion, she shut down a Twitter troll with good humor and grace.

Surround yourself with positive people who believe in you, and ignore everyone else. They don’t know what it’s like to have your dream, and you owe them nothing.

5. See your dream instead of the obstacles.

Lindsey’s dream of achieving greatness is a fire in her belly. Her first coach said, “She would rather be dead than not succeed.” That fire ignites her drive to overcome the many barriers she has faced: turbulent early years, family strife, divorce, multiple serious injuries, disappointment and depression, public criticism, the recent death of her beloved grandfather…the lengthy list could be overwhelming. But Lindsey keeps her dream at the forefront of her mind, rather than all the things that have gone wrong.

When you encounter obstacles – and you will – look past them to keep your goals and dreams in view. Don’t let the barriers block your vision of where you want to be: striking gold with Olympic success in business. 

6. Break down the process, sequence, and prioritize it.

For a top athlete like Lindsey, preparing to compete has hundreds of little pieces. She and her coaches work out details of her nutrition, training regimen, rest cycles, social time, public appearances, types of equipment (including over 100 pairs of skis!) and more. In addition, those plans are adjusted for each season of the year. After an injury, she might change them completely to focus on her comeback.

When you feel daunted by your goal of Olympic success in business, overwhelmed by all the little pieces, start by sorting and sequencing them. Decide which pieces you need most, and what order to put them in. Then prioritize your time accordingly.

7. Get quality advice.

When Lindsey was ten years old, she met her hero, Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street. Picabo was so impressed with the little girl that years later, when they met again on the slopes, Picabo remembered her and became a mentor. Lindsey has also consulted with numerous coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and fellow skiers.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you need technology help, ask a 12-year-old! If you need advice about life experience, ask someone older than you. Seek out and accept advice from diverse sources.

8. Implement a long-term plan.

As a little girl, Lindsey dreamed of winning more gold medals than any other woman. As she grew, so did her dream: she has now set her sights on the goal of winning more than any skier in history, male or female. The current record is held by a Swedish man named Ingemar Stedmark, who won 86 World Cup races between 1973 – 1986. Lindsey only needs five more wins to tie his record, and she intends to continue that pursuit after the Olympics end.

A big goal requires a big plan. Don’t let the size of your goal discourage you from implementing a potentially large and complex plan. Break it into smaller pieces, as described in step six, and you’ll soon find it more manageable.

9. Let your achievement fuel your continuing success.

Lindsey with a few of her World Cup trophies

If you were to visit Lindsey’s home in Vail, you would be impressed by her custom-built trophy cases packed with prizes and medals. She has kept it all, allowing the remembered euphoria of each win to fuel her continuing high performance.

When you accomplish a goal, celebrate it! Savor the feeling of victory and let it fuel your progress toward the next goals.

10. Never stop pushing yourself.

There’s a lot more to winning ski races than just flying down a slope, and Lindsey continues to improve her tactics, studying videos to analyze her performance. A few years ago, she started using men’s skis to increase her speed. Now, as she nears her goal of most wins in World Cup skiing, and plans to compete for probably one more season, you’d think she’d be content to finish her career as the most decorated skier in history. But no. Not Lindsey. She is appealing to skiing’s governing board for permission to race against men, just once, to see how she could perform against stronger, faster skiers.

As you cheer Lindsey on the slopes this week, be inspired by her pursuit of excellence. Let her dream of greatness, and the tips we picked up from observing her life, fire your own dream of Olympic success in business!

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