When champion skier Lindsey Vonn vowed to return from major knee surgery to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, she didn’t just mean she would be happy to be there.
On TODAY Monday, Matt Lauer asked Vonn if she'd make it to the medal stand.
“You better believe it,’’ Vonn said. “You better not doubt me.”
The most accomplished U.S. skier of all time and a gold medalist at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vonn is determined to reclaim her spot as the world’s best downhill skier. On Feb. 5, Vonn tore the anterior crucial ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and fractured her tibia in a crash at the Alpine skiing world championships in Schlamding, Austria. Thanks to her diligent rehabilitation, she is back on skis and recently hit the snow for the first time since her injury.
“I fall, I get back up,’’ she said. “It’s who I am. Obviously this is the biggest setback I’ve ever had, but I’m skiing really well. I’ve only been on snow for a few days, but I’m already almost right back where I was, so things are looking up. I’ve been waiting to get back on snow for many months now. Going to Chile was really exciting, (and) definitely got my enthusiasm back up. My knee feels great. I can’t tell which one is injured.”
Vonn is also one half of a sports power couple with boyfriend Tiger Woods, who has helped her through the recovery process.
“I’m not a very patient person,’’ Vonn said. “He’s very patient and he’s very mentally tough. He’s a grinder. He works extremely hard, and he’s obviously also had an ACL injury as well and had the same surgery, so he knew what I was going through. He said just be patient, keep working hard, and everything is going to turn around. It really helped me get through it.”
The mental hurdles of recovery have been as challenging as the physical ones for Vonn.
“It’s tough,’’ she said. “You’re sitting there grinding away in the gym and it’s like, ‘Is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to get back on the slopes?’’’
Vonn is one of two female skiers in history to win four overall World Cup championships and became the first American woman to win the gold medal in the downhill event at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Despite having already accomplished so much, she had no intentions of retiring after her crash.
“I don’t want that to be the final moment of my career,’’ she said. “Obviously, I could’ve retired and I’d have a lot to be proud of, but there’s a lot more I want to do. Sochi is obviously a huge goal of mine, so I had plenty of motivation. I wasn’t going to just sit there and accept what I’ve already done.”
She said she has had no trepidation as she rockets down mountains at speeds of more than 70 miles per hour.
“I’m kind of weird,’’ she said. “You have to be a little bit crazy to be a downhill ski racer.”
Vonn later joined her mother, Lindy Lund, on Rockefeller Plaza with the group of fellow Olympic hopefuls and their mothers. Figure skater Evan Lysacek, ice hockey player Julie Chu and Paralympic sled hockey player Taylor Lipsett all spoke about their mothers' influence on their success. Lipsett suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder, but was always encouraged to be active by his mother, Cheryl.
"She just never held me back,'' Lipsett told the TODAY anchors. "She never told me I couldn't do anything. 'Quit,' and 'don't,' and 'no,' really didn't exist in our vocabulary. She just encouraged me to go for my dreams."