Tag Archives: Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van, champion in many ways

Lindsey Van at 2009 World Ski Championship
Lindsey Van at 2009 World Ski Championship

There are winners, and there are champions. And today – the very first day that women ski jumpers have ever competed in the Olympics – seems like the perfect day to single out a champion.

“My goal is to make the Olympic team, for girls,” declared ski jumper Lindsey Van in a tv interview back in 1996. She was eleven. It would be 18 more years – until today, February 11, 2014 – that it took her dream to materialize.

Not just 18 years of training. But 18 years of – quite literally MAKING the team. As in creating it. Lobbying the Olympic Committee for it. Fighting for it in courts and in public. Willing it into being. And although Lindsey didn’t win the medal we were all hoping for her, those women who did, owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her tireless fight on their behalf.

[Today’s winners were Carina Vogt of Germany; Daniel Iraschkostotz of Austria; Coline Mattel of France].

Not many of us probably even realized that women ski jumpers were excluded from Olympic competition by officials who considered the sport “too dangerous” for women. Even though the women were competing neck-in-neck with men in world championships since 2006, when the International Ski Federation allowed them in. And decades before that on slopes all over the world.

A 2011 documentary “Ready to Fly” by William Kerig, captures this struggle. It’s a brilliant film, one of the most moving stories I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, where it won top awards.

In 2009, Lindsey won her Gold Medal at the World Ski Championships at Liberec, CZE and held the North American record for distance (94 meters) until this year.

She was the favorite heading into the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but of course – there was no ski jumping for women in Vancouver. And there wouldn’t have been any women’s ski jumping today if Lindsey and her teammates hadn’t filed suit against the Olympic committee. It was a victory hard won. And bittersweet for Lindsey, whose best chance at gold was four years ago, not today at age 29.

But if anyone can claim victory, if anyone can be called “champion” for her sport and has cause to hold her head high when other women accept their medals, it’s this petite skier from Salt Lake City who fought to make today’s Olympic competition possible – when everyone told her to go away.

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Living Impeccably

Julien Millot photo by Seb Montaz
Julien Millot photo by Seb Montaz

Living impeccably isn’t always obvious. Or easy. But when someone is doing it, we feel it. It doesn’t matter whether we fully understand what they do. It doesn’t even matter that we have a basis for comparison. We just know. It can be in sports. It can be in art. It can be in the way someone leads their life. We know it by how they hold themselves. By the confidence they exude. By the pride they take in their actions. And the generosity with which they share it.

Josh Dueck has won more medals since his paralyzing ski injury than ever before. photo: Hannah Johnson
Josh Dueck has won more medals since his paralyzing ski injury than ever before. photo: Hannah Johnson

Can you imagine being on a climbing team, 20,000 feet into the Himalayas, and not doing your best to set the next pitch? Can you imagine packing a parachute with anything less than absolute focus? Or approaching a class IV river rapids without every cell in your body coming alive with the challenge before you? You cannot.  These circumstances command you to be excellent. I think this is why adventurers share such a bond with each other. Sure, their personalities may clash, but there is a deeper bond of respect that forms when you are pursuing something brutally difficult, when you are all pushed to the limits of your capacity. And hold each others’ lives in your hands.

Pablo Picasso painted, sketched or sculpted nearly every day, from childhood until his death at 91.
Pablo Picasso painted, sketched or sculpted nearly every day, from childhood until his death at 91.

Am I advocating that we all live, pushing the red line, 24/7? Of course not. Our bodies would never sustain it. But I am advocating a commitment to be excellent, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Or to work tirelessly to change what we’re doing, until this is possible. Why? Because being less than excellent is a drain on our souls. It saps us. It steals our nourishment. We have bargained away our worth for pennies.

By contrast, we are nourished whenever we give our best. When we help someone. When we make a difference.  When we meet the challenge before us, without complaint. Unconvinced? Think back over your life to your proudest moment. An achievement of some sort, a kindness rendered. You know it already. You felt tall. You felt strong. You needed nothing more in that moment. That’s the nourishment we’re talking about. It came from being excellent. It came from giving everything.

Lindsey Van won a long legal battle to bring women's ski jumping into the Olympics, beginning in 2014. photo: AP
Lindsey Van won a long legal battle to bring women’s ski jumping into the Olympics, beginning in 2014. photo: AP

The excellence we’re talking about is not objective excellence. It is an inner excellence, born of giving your best. If you are giving your best, you fear no criticism. Does the Olympic gymnast scoff at the nine year old girl, who is just learning to pull her first handstand in the rings? Her body is wobbly, her form imperfect, she may never even compete professionally, but if that nine year old is committed? And determined? Giving 100%? No one can fail to see that. No one can withhold respect.

What no one respects is selfishness. And herein lies the two great poles of life. The great choice we face, in every moment. We can either be selfish, calibrating our every effort by its expected return to us. Or we can be self-less, giving freely, for the sheer joy of doing what we came here to do. Being excellent at something. Whatever that something is. We can be nourished by it, in ways more profound than we could ever know beforehand.

Gustavo Dudamel, courtesy LA Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, courtesy LA Philharmonic

indian sculptor (photo credit unknown)
indian sculptor (photo credit unknown)