As told to THINK editor Meredith Bennett-Smith; edited for clarity.
The 2018 Winter Olympics was a completely different experience than any of my previous Olympics games. Knowing that I was trying to win a medal for my grandfather — who died in November and whose ashes I spread in South Korea — was very emotional. This is something that I've been dealing with since he passed away.
But also knowing that it was my last Olympics pushed me to enjoy every second of it — from an athletic perspective, but also from an individual perspective. Spending time with my teammates. Going to the opening and closing ceremonies. Really running the whole gamut. I wanted to make sure that I had a meaningful last Olympics, whether I won an Olympic medal or not.
There is just something so special about being a part of Team USA. It's always an honor to represent your country, of course, but especially at the Olympics. I feel more unified with my teammates, and with our country, than I have at any other time in my career and my life.
Knowing that it was my last Olympics pushed me to enjoy every second of it — from an athletic perspective, but also from an individual perspective.
And I think I did everything I went to South Korea to do. On the athletics side, I skied my heart out. I skied for my grandfather. And I enjoyed every second of being a part of Team USA and sharing this experience with my teammates.
When you're racing World Cups or the World Championships, it's more individual. The World Championships is just Alpine skiing, for example, so it's a totally different ballgame. But I’ll never forget going on the "TODAY Show" and seeing the entire women's hockey team with their gold medals. Their energy and enthusiasm and excitement was just so incredible to be a part of. And watching them really reminded me that we are all on the same team. We're all pulling for each other, and to be able to celebrate with them was really special.
This year has been challenging, but I think it’s also really changed my perspective. When you're winning and you're healthy — and everything comes easily — you don't appreciate things as much. At least I didn't. But my injuries have changed my outlook. I’ve had to work 10 times harder just to get to the same point. And all that adversity adds to the feeling of accomplishment. I have a different attitude now. From a competitive standpoint. From a personal standpoint. And I have so much more mental strength than I did before, just knowing what I’ve overcome. The adversity has made me a better person.
I am also lucky. From the beginning, I've always tried to align myself with people who have similar values than I do. This was true before I broke through and became successful on the commercial side, and it’s especially true now. A lot of things changed after I started winning, but many things stayed the same. For example, I've been working with Under Armor for over 11 years; they supported me when other people didn't. This type of support is important for winter athletes especially. P&G is another great example. They sponsored me before the 2010 Olympics and I've been working with them since then. I’m proud they will be with me as I close out my career.
I will never stop being a competitor. But when I do retire, I will do so confident that winter sports are in good hands.
When I do retire, I will do so confident that winter sports are in good hands. I think you're seeing a lot of fresh faces, which is so important. Faces like Chloe Kim have really made a big impact on these games. And the sports are changing and modernizing — sports like Big Air and Free Ride are becoming so popular. Generally, the Olympics are trending more towards extreme sports, and I think that has helped to capture more of the next generation of kids.
Ultimately, I will never stop being a competitor. That’s something that will always be with me and a part of me. But there will be plenty of amazing athletes, whether I'm around to compete with them or not. And I just have to be able to move on when I'm done ski racing, and find something else that will fill that void. It may be impossible to totally fill that space, but I’m going to cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I’m looking forward to the Word Cup and what happens down the road. And I’ll always have PyeongChang.
Lindsey Vonn is an American alpine skiier. A 2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2018 bronze medalists, Vonn has won four World Cup overall titles and owns the record for most World Cup wins by a woman.