Park City, UT – Last winter, Vail, Colo.’s Lindsey Vonn was busy bagging titles – like that of the winningest female ski racer in history when she surpassed Annemarie Moser-Proell’s previous record of 62 World Cup victories – but that’s not all she was busy doing. Last February, she embarked on a new mission, and this time it wasn’t on the mountain: the launch of her foundation, the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, with the goal to empower and inspire young girls. As with most everything Vonn seems to touch, it’s been magic. With two events in the books, the foundation has already raised a lot of money.
“I’m really proud of it,” Vonn said in a recent interview. “It’s something I’ll continue to do full time once I’m done ski racing, and it’s something that I’m really passionate about it.”
She knows all too well the importance of a female role model as a young aspiring ski racer. It was Picabo Street who played that role for Vonn when she was growing up.
“As a young kid, I was inspired by Picabo Street, and I know the impact that one person can have on someone,” she said, adding that her goal now is to inspire a new generation of young athletes follow their dreams.
That impact truly came to light this season, when Vonn named teammate Jackie Wiles, of Aurora, Ore., as the Foundation’s first ever athlete ambassador. “I’m really lucky that I have such a great teammate as Jackie Wiles,” Vonn noted. “She needed help to be able to support herself this season, so I personally gave her money to be able to ski this year and in return she is the first ambassador for the Lindsey Vonn Foundation.”
What does this mean? It means that Wiles is sporting the Foundation’s logo on her helmet, and she’ll be a mentor in some of their programs as well as be Vonn’s right-hand woman as she works through the selection process for scholarships.
For those of you who don’t know Wiles, look her up. She’s a fighter. A scrappy risk-taker. And she’s not afraid. On top of that, she’s one of the kindest, most thoughtful women on the team. This year marks Wiles’ third year on the World Cup tour. Her first season with the team, she had a breakout first year, landing herself a spot on the Sochi Olympic team. But last year was a challenge for Wiles, which meant this year she needed some help with funding.
Not only is she thankful Vonn could help her continue on her quest to achieving her dreams, but she’s equally excited about the opportunity to be mentored by the best female ski racer in history.
“To have Lindsey as a mentor is a huge opportunity for me to learn and take everything she’s done to make herself successful,” Wiles said. “I’m really blessed and lucky to be in this position.”
U.S. Ski Team Alpine Press Officer Megan Harrod took some time to sit down with both Vonn and Wiles, independently of each other, and this is what they had to say.
Q: In your words, what makes a champion?
Lindsey Vonn: I think a champion is someone who works hard and believes in themselves. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about that belief, and setting goals for yourself and achieving your goals. It’s not about winning, it’s just about doing the best that you can.
Jackie Wiles: I think what makes a champion is someone’s self determination to be the best, always believing in yourself even when other people don’t, and just keep working hard and doing what you need to do to be better, and bettering yourself every day. As long as you keep working hard, I think anything is possible.
Q: Do you remember the first time you felt like a champion?
LV: The first real time I felt like a champion was when I won the Olympics in Vancouver. Before that, I mean, you win and it’s a win – but it’s not the same as the Olympics. So that definitely changed my perspective.
JW: I remember when I first felt like a champion. It was the best feeling in the world. It was 2012, we were at Copper Mountain and it was U.S. Nationals. I was kind of a nobody and I popped out of nowhere. I had always believed in myself, and not a lot of other people thought I had what it took. I had just kept working hard, and finally for this race things fell into place, and I had an amazing run winning the national title for downhill. And it was the biggest moment for me, in my ski racing career that I had. Knowing that I could do it, and my hard work was paying off, and if I kept doing that things would continue to play out. I wasn’t a ski team athlete, I was supporting myself, and I had a great support system behind me with the regional program. It was a big moment and it was pretty thrilling.
Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring kids who want to be sitting where you are today?
JW: Dream big. Never give up on those dreams. Keep fighting and working hard. For me, it took a while to make the ski team. I had to fight for quite a while. I always believed in myself. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. Just keep fighting and believing in yourself. As long as you’re working hard, anything is possible.