Strong Is the New Beautiful
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever skied is Cortina, Italy. When you’re at the top of the mountain where the World Cup is held, all you can see in every direction are peaks and sky, the steep edges of the Dolomites ringing the summit view as if the valleys below don’t even exist. Up there, you are closer to the stratosphere than you are to the earth, but there the earth is too, below you and all around you, pushing up rock and jagged snowy hills that seem so unconquerable—unconquerable to everyone but you, standing there on the top of the mountain with the world laid out before you.
That is where I stood—and how I felt—the morning after I tied the all-time record for the most World Cup wins ever by a female skier. It was daybreak, and the sky had blanched to a powdery blue, with just a few sun-rimmed clouds washing through the peaks and coloring the snow below a shimmery gold. I still had to race that day and I was on the hill so early to inspect the course, but I wasn’t concerned about the competition ahead. Instead, all I could think about was what I had just accomplished—tying a world record, something I had never thought possible—and all I had endured to stand at that place at that point in time. I was immensely relieved and proud, but most of all, I felt strong, physically and mentally, like I could do anything with my body and mind that I put my heart to.
I hadn’t always felt this way, though—so strong, so unstoppable, so on top of the world in more ways than one. Over the course of my career, there had been days, weeks, even months when I felt low, unsure of myself, worried about whether I would ski again, and even worried whether I was too muscular and big to fit into some American ideal of an athlete. I never doubted my ability per se, but getting strong and fit and feeling as good about my body as possible required a journey of sorts. But standing on my skis in Cortina on January 19, 2015—the same day I would go on to not just tie but break the all-time record for most World Cup wins ever—I knew it was a journey that had changed my life and body indelibly, for the better.
I wanted to write this book to share with you my journey and give you the inspiration, tips, and tools you need to change your life and body, too. No matter who you are, what you do for your living, or what your body looks like now, you can get stronger, leaner, healthier, and happier, just as I have. I’m not a coach, trainer, or nutritionist, but I am an Olympic athlete who’s tried nearly every exercise and diet there is, and I know what works and what doesn’t.
What I’ve learned, too, is that there’s more than one way of exercising and eating that can make you feel good about yourself and your body—and having more than one option is a fabulous thing. While plenty of diet and fitness “experts” will recommend only one way to eat or work out to lose weight or get healthy, I find restrictions to be extremely limiting. We all have different bodies, genetics, preferences, and lifestyles, and I believe that if you want to look and feel your best, you need options that will empower you, not rules that will make exercising and healthy eating that much more difficult.
Since I was young, my life has been about my body, as I’ve spent nearly all of the past three decades managing my energy, working on my strength, eating and exercising for optimal performance, and preventing and rehabbing the injuries that are as much a part of skiing as the cold and the snow. I’m constantly assessing how I feel, how my muscles look and respond, what exactly is going on in my body, and whether I’m eating the best foods and doing the most effective workouts I can to get to the top step of the Olympic podium.
What I’ve learned along the way is that no matter what kind of body type you have, making it your goal to get strong rather than to lose a bunch of weight, reach a certain number on the scale, or simply get skinny is a healthier, more sustainable, and ultimately more effective way to change your body—and change it for good. When you make your goal to get strong, you’re setting an intention to help your body become fitter and healthier, not just smaller or thinner. You agree to try new ways of eating and exercising that you can sustain for life—not just for a few weeks or months—as you find those foods and workouts that you actually enjoy, not just the ones you eat or suffer through because you want to lose weight. When you work to get strong, you also agree to get mentally fit, building up your confidence in and out of the gym as you feel better about yourself. You stop doing the workouts you don’t like, you stop eating too little or those foods that don’t taste good, and you stop the body shaming, as you focus on feeling good about what you eat, how you exercise, and how you look and feel. Because getting strong doesn’t mean just getting lean, but trying to find personal purpose and empowerment, too. Because when you’re strong, you too can do anything you set your mind, body, and heart to. Trust me . . . I know.
My journey to get strong started when I was a teenager, although my quest to be an athlete began when I was much younger. The oldest of five, I was born in Burnsville, Minnesota, a suburb outside the Twin Cities. By no stretch of the imagination could Burnsville be considered a ski town. We had just one hill, Buck Hill, with a 310-foot vertical drop—shorter than most waterslides.
But Buck Hill was only five minutes from my family’s home, and my father, Alan, a former ski racer and junior national ski champion, was a ski coach there. When I was just a baby, he took me out in a backpack on the hill, and before I was three, I was learning to take my first turns on skis.
I always enjoyed skiing more than the other sports I tried as a kid—soccer, gymnastics, ice-skating, running, and the other activities that most children try in grade school. Nothing made me happier than being on a mountain, especially when I was racing down one as fast as I could. I wasn’t particularly quick on skis when I was young—quite the opposite, in fact—but I always looked forward to my time on the mountain. It was fun being outside in the snow, carving down the hill run after run, first with my father, then with my friends. When it got too cold to ski anymore, I’d huddle inside the lodge with hot chocolate and doughnuts, and to me, the sport was much more special than any soccer game.
By the time I was seven, I knew that I wanted to race. I joined the Buck Hill team, which was led at the time by Erich Sailer, the first development coach ever to be inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame—he was also my father’s coach when my dad was a racer. I wasn’t fast, and I can remember Erich chiding my father that he had produced a turtle of a daughter on the hill.
That I was slow only fueled my determination to get faster, and when I was nine, I convinced my parents to let me travel alone to a ski camp in Austria. I was the youngest camper there by several years, but my age didn’t bother me. My dad had given me an envelope full of different kinds of foreign currency—Austrian schillings, German marks—and I felt incredibly grown up and independent. Plus, I was skiing with kids who were so much older and better than me, and I had no choice but to keep up or get left behind. All in all, the experience was just what I needed to boost my confidence in myself and my skiing. It was also my first exposure to speaking German—or rather, not being able to speak it—and after returning home, I immediately decided to start learning the language.
Several months later, something incredible happened. At the local ski shop down the road from my family’s home, I met Picabo Street, who at that time was the most successful American female skier. I had posters of Picabo plastered on my bedroom wall, and when I finally met her in person, it was like seeing a superhero—I couldn’t believe she was real. I had never met a professional ski racer before or even really knew that skiing could be something you could do as a full-time career. Yet there was Picabo, a woman who had made a life out of skiing, and I thought to myself, I want to do that, too.
Afterward, I took my racing more seriously. I spoke with my father, and we realized together that if I wanted to get better, I would need to start skiing in the mountains, not just on little Buck Hill. I began making trips to Vail, Colorado, for training camps, mostly with my mother at first, but as I got faster and faster and started to show real potential, eventually my whole family, including my four siblings—my sister Karin and the triplets, Reed, Dylan, and Laura—all moved to Vail with me.
I was only thirteen at the time, but I was old enough to know that my family was making a giant sacrifice, all for my skiing career. To move to Vail, my parents had to sell the house they’d built in Burnsville, which had been their dream home, and my brothers and sisters had to leave their friends and everything familiar to go to new schools and make new friends. This put a tremendous amount of pressure on me and made me that much more resolute in my training—because there was no way I was going to let my family down.
One of the earliest indicators that I would make it as a pro skier occurred the year after we moved to Vail, when I won the juniors competition at Trofeo Topolino in Italy. I was just fourteen, but the victory made me the first American female ever to win the title. Every skier who’d won Topolino before had gone on to win a World Cup—the premier event in alpine skiing, part of a large international circuit. Standing on the Topolino podium in Italy, thousands of miles from Vail, I finally felt that whatever turtle Erich Sailer had seen at Buck Hill was long gone and that I was at last headed in the right direction.
My next step was to make the U.S. Ski Team, which required passing a physical fitness test. I joined my parents’ gym and began strength training. My father also started me on a regimen of doing 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups every night, and took me to the track on the weekends to run.
I hated running; in fact, I loathed it (and I still do). When I ran, everything hurt: my knees, shins, quads. At that time I didn’t like lifting weights either, but I did both regularly and religiously, and when I was fifteen, the work paid off: I made the team’s developmental program.
Once on the team, I knew my physical training was just beginning. The team had a sponsorship agreement with a cycling company, which allowed me to get a nice road bike for little money, and I started riding instead of running. Cycling was a big boon to my ability to get fit: I loved it, which meant I was able to do more aerobic exercise more often, with more energy and enjoyment. When I was in Minnesota, where my family moved back to after I made the team, I would ride for miles on long, scenic farm roads to neighboring towns. In Colorado, I started biking up Vail Pass, which was challenging, but so much more exciting—and rewarding—than running an arbitrary number of miles around a track.
As I got stronger and stronger off skis, I became faster and faster on the hill, and my status on the team quickly progressed from developmental to C, then B, then A Team, or the top tier of alpine racers in the country. At age sixteen, just one year after earning a berth on the team, I raced my first World Cup in Park City, Utah, and then picked up my first official World Cup points shortly after in Val d’Isère, France, in what would become a very familiar race for me over the next fifteen years.
In 2002, my life changed in an extraordinary way: I made the U.S. Olympic team. I could hardly believe that the girl from Buck Hill would now be an Olympic athlete—a term that carried so much weight in the world and one that I had only dreamed about for years, like so many other aspiring skiers. Once I was at the Games, it almost didn’t matter to me how well I raced—simply making the team was a success in itself. At the opening ceremony in Salt Lake, I remember walking into the stadium and letting the roar of the crowd wash over me. Lost in the noise and the emotion of the moment, I started to feel a huge sense of relief welling up inside of me as I realized that the sacrifices my family had made were paying off in a very real, qualitative way. Days later, I placed sixth in the combined event, the best result from the U.S. women’s team at the Games that year.
After the Olympics, I continued to improve in small, measured ways, but I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I had before. I knew I could be doing more to get my body stronger, and at my dad’s recommendation, I used two years of a paid advance against my potential earnings to hire my first real coach, a Polish trainer named Jacques Choynowski who had helped transform other elite skiers in the past.
Jacques lived in Monaco in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend, so at age nineteen I moved to Monaco for the summer to train. It was an intense situation in many ways, but I worked out harder in Monaco with Jacques than I ever had before in my life. For the most part, he was an old-school coach, the kind who thought you should push yourself until you puked, which I nearly did after every workout.
The following season, 2004–2005, I made the podium, placing in the top three, at my first World Cup race in Cortina, Italy. In many ways, this was a bigger accomplishment than making the Olympic team, because it meant that I was no longer simply on the World Cup circuit, but I was a contender there, too. It was also a big confidence boost, and one that gave me the push I needed to aim higher. At the beginning of the following season, I won my first World Cup in Lake Louise, Canada, and finished the year with five more podiums.
That winter I was spending more time with my boyfriend, who was also on the U.S. team, and I moved from Vail to Park City, where he and the rest of the team trained. I also started doing their regular workouts and following a high-carb diet, which the team nutritionist recommended and which was popular at the time with many endurance athletes.
It didn’t take more than a few months of eating mostly pasta, cereal, and bagels for me to start feeling tired and lethargic, as if I were getting heavier, not more muscular or faster. It bothered me too that when I stood in front of the mirror in the gym, I didn’t think that my body looked very athletic, even though I was working out up to six hours a day. Eventually, I didn’t feel I could maintain that kind of training or diet anymore, and I decided to start working with Picabo Street’s old trainer, Matt James.
Matt helped revitalize my workouts, giving my training the structure and boost it needed. Soon I started to see the same kind of gains in my strength and racing that I had after spending time with Jacques in Monaco. I was getting stronger and skiing faster, and even though I still didn’t necessarily like how my body looked in the mirror all the time, I could tell visually that I was adding the muscle I wanted.
While I was with Matt, my skiing got another big boost: I got sponsored by Red Bull after many interviews with the company. This was a major advancement for my career. The energy drink maker is an icon in American sports; more important, being asked to join signified that I had made it as professional skier. Moreover, Red Bull had sponsored only two or three other skiers in its entire history, and I felt special and honored to be asked to join.
After signing with Red Bull, I started working with the company’s coach, Martin Hager. Martin’s training was completely different from anything I had experienced before. I started spending more time on the bike, which was exhilarating, and seeing a physical therapist, getting regular massages, and experimenting more with what I ate and when. As I got stronger, I finally started to look like the toned athlete I hoped to be. Finally, the ways I was training and eating were paying off in positive, tangible ways. I went to Austria with Martin to train, and Red Bull hired a language coach to help me work on my German. Once again, I felt like everything was coming together.
But no amount of training or confidence at the time could have prepared me for what is nearly inevitable in skiing: falls. Of all times, at all places, my first debilitating crash occurred during the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I caught an edge, my legs split, and I launched off a jump backward, landing on my back. For a few moments, I couldn’t move, and the feeling of paralysis suspended all my senses—I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. For the first time in what would become several occasions, I had to be airlifted off the mountain. I panicked, and during that awful helicopter ride to the hospital, all I could think was that I had broken my back and that I’d never ski again, all at the age of twenty-one. When I had started training that day, I had been on top of the world, about to compete in my second Olympics, daydreaming of a medal after a string of World Cup wins. Now, moments later, I was strapped onto a stretcher, a thousand feet in the air, being moved noisily away from what I believed would be the last mountain I would ever ski.
After I was rushed into the hospital, the doctors ordered a series of MRIs and CT scans before they delivered the news: I was going to be okay. It was only some bad bruising, and I would be in a lot of pain, but nothing was broken, and I would ski again. I was relieved, overwhelmed, and thankful—and then anxious to get back to the Games. The pain was intense, but I gritted my teeth and raced through it, finishing eighth in the downhill and seventh in the super G. I was disappointed that I hadn’t finished stronger, but I was more grateful than anything just to be able to ski. Plus, I had learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Never take skiing for granted.
The following season, I doubled down on my training with Martin, increasing the amount of time I spent in the gym and focusing more energy on getting stronger, not only so that I could ski faster but also so that my body could better handle crashes like the one I had just endured. Once again, the grueling training paid off: At the 2007 World Championships that winter, I medaled for the first time, taking home silver in both the downhill and the super G.
That fall, Thomas and I were married in Deer Valley, Utah. I was in love, felt fabulous about my life and career, and not surprisingly went on to have a triumphant season that year, winning both the downhill and the overall World Cup title for the first time.
But I still hadn’t won gold on the world’s biggest stage yet: the World Championships, which has the same depth and level of competition as the Olympics. This bothered me, especially since there had been speculation in the press that I couldn’t win gold when it really mattered—at large international championships such as the World Champs or the Olympics, when the pressure was high. I knew in my heart this wasn’t true, but I still had to prove it to myself. I started training even harder on and off the hill for the next World Champs, which would be held in Val d’Isère, where I had earned my first World Cup points.
Still, for as much speed and power as I could gain, I knew I needed a different kind of strength if I wanted to win a world championship: mental strength. As my career had progressed, the expectation that I would win had increased. At previous World Champs, I had tried to handle this mounting pressure by either being too relaxed or too aggressive. Neither approach had worked well for me, and right before Val d’Isère, I realized why: Being too relaxed left me racing without the grit I needed, while being too aggressive meant I couldn’t relax and let my body and mind do what they needed to do—and had done so often in training—to win. Somehow I had to learn how to combine the two approaches, to find my own sense of calm while keeping the aggressive edge I needed. With this new attitude, I went to Val d’Isère feeling mentally prepared for the first time, and not only did I get the gold I wanted, I got two of them—one in the downhill and one in the super G.
Knowing that I could win when the pressure was high was precisely the confidence boost I needed before the 2009–2010 season—the same year as the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. With two gold medals now from the World Champs, I felt that I had a good chance to repeat the feat and grab the biggest gold of all time—one from the Olympic Games. I also felt stronger than I had in years, and soon after the season started, I began to rack up wins on the World Cup circuit, surpassing Bode Miller to become the American skier with the most World Cup wins ever.
I was so physically and mentally focused on the 2010 Olympics that I didn’t think anything could deter me from getting what I wanted. But I was wrong. Two weeks before the Vancouver Games, I crashed during a training run. I didn’t have to be medevacked off the mountain, but I had a badly bruised shin. I couldn’t ski at all and wouldn’t be able to until the games.
Suddenly I found myself in the eye of what appeared to be the perfect storm: I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated that month, and I knew that everyone in the States expected me to medal. Some had even speculated that I could win as many as five gold medals. The pressure on me was higher than it had ever been before, yet I couldn’t even ski and was in excruciating pain just walking. I wouldn’t even think of backing out, but how could I medal if I couldn’t make it down the hill?
I knew that I had to do something to take myself out of the center of the storm. After flying to Vancouver and doing the usual media rounds, I holed up in a condo that Red Bull had rented for me. It was a difficult decision to make, but I also told the team that I wasn’t going to participate in the opening ceremony that year, and I didn’t even watch it on TV. In fact, I forced myself not to watch any of the Olympic coverage, even though I knew some of it inevitably included speculation about me. I told my friends that I couldn’t see them until after my events, spending time only with my sister and brother, both of whom helped me stay calm, and I deliberately shut down all my social media. In a stroke of good luck, the figurative storm I felt around me turned into a literal storm, causing rain for days, which delayed my race date, giving my shin more time to recover.
Finally it was time to race. I knew that I was as ready as I’d ever be, even though I hadn’t been able to train to capacity the last few weeks and my shin was still sore. I told myself that all I could do was my best, whatever that was, and with this attitude, in my first race of the games, in the downhill, I had the best moment of my life and career to date: I won an Olympic gold medal.
Exhausted and jubilant at the bottom of the course, when I realized that I had won, I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t speak when a reporter asked me what it felt like to be an Olympic champion. All I could think about was everything that my family had given up, everything that I had given up until that point in my life, and how it was all worth it for that single moment. I cried with relief and joy, both through the interview and during the awards ceremony afterward. When I won a bronze medal in the super G days later, it was just the sweet completion to the experience—it would take weeks, if not months, for it to sink in that I was a two-time Olympic medalist. And while others might have expected me to podium in every discipline, five Olympic medals had never been my goal. I had two, and one was gold, and I was immensely proud and grateful.
When I returned home after the Olympics, my life suddenly changed: I was a celebrity. I had been skiing, winning races, and breaking records for years, but being an Olympic champion seemed to switch on some kind of spotlight that instantly illuminated me as an athlete in the eyes of many Americans. Like other Olympic champions, I began to be invited to Hollywood events, movie premieres, and parties. People on the street recognized me, and producers started calling to book me on morning and late-night TV shows.
All the attention surprised me at first, and in the beginning, I loved getting dressed up, walking the red carpet, and meeting famous people I had seen only on-screen. But the more time I spent at these events, the more I began to feel that I didn’t quite fit in. I was taller than most of the women, and even many of the men, but I also felt bigger and much more muscular. When I looked around, it seemed like everyone was model-thin, with tiny waists and long, willowy legs, all of them so small, compact, and stereotypically beautiful—So unlike me, I thought.
Before the Olympics, I had been immersed in my own aesthetic world, the world of skiing, where everyone looks like I do. My female competitors were just as muscular as I was, as were most of the elite female athletes from other sports whom I’d met. But now I was in a realm where being skinny seemed to matter more than being healthy—and certainly more than being fit. I started to question myself. As I stared at my body in the mirror, I thought: Should I not wear this dress? Do I need to lose weight if I want to stay socially relevant as an athlete?
These insecurities haunted me into the following season, and I became more concerned with how I looked in the mirror than with how strong I felt in the gym or on the hill. Winning an Olympic gold had also softened some of my drive, which detracted from my training, too. I knew I wasn’t pushing myself as hard, not giving it my all during every training run or trying to lift every ounce of weight that I could. I felt directionless for almost the whole season, even as I continued to win World Cup races.
At the end of the year, I missed the overall World Championship title by just three points. It was such a narrow and disappointing defeat that it shook me. I knew that I was hurting my career, and for what? My perception of someone else’s perception of what was beautiful? I was an Olympic athlete, after all, and Olympic athletes were muscular. I resolved to start training as hard as ever during the following year.
Once again, though, life had a different plan for me, and several weeks into my 2011–2012 season, Thomas and I announced we were getting divorced after almost ten years together. As a result, that fall and winter were difficult and emotional for me because not only had Thomas been my husband, but he had also been my part-time coach, full-time travel companion, advisor, and best friend—in other words, my rock.
Given how much I was struggling emotionally, I knew that I needed to bury myself in my sport that much more. Through all the years and varying ups and downs, skiing was one thing I could rely on to give me a sense of joy in times of hardship. That season, I looked to my training and racing more than I ever had. I kept to myself and focused everything on my career.
At the same time, newspaper articles began to surface questioning whether I could make it as an athlete without a man by my side, as first my father had guided my career, then Thomas. I knew without a doubt that there wasn’t any truth in the rumors, but the speculation infuriated me. That season I made it my mission to prove everyone wrong, and unlike most of my competitors, I started planning all my own travel, driving myself to races, and doing all the other things a sports agent, personal assistant, parent, or partner might do. But I discovered that I liked being in charge of my career, and I found the change empowering. I felt more capable, competent, and independent, and even stronger than I had in previous seasons.
Fueled by this newfound strength, I went on that season to break the all-time record for the most points ever scored on the World Cup circuit in a single year. I knew that I was back to being me—physically, mentally, and emotionally. That spring, I met Tiger Woods, and we started dating the following winter.
The following season, 2012-2013, had all the hallmarks to be successful: I felt physically and mentally strong, I was confident, my training was going well, and my life was in a new and exciting place. But early into the World Cup circuit, while racing in Europe, I contracted a serious stomach illness that sent me to the hospital for several days. I couldn’t eat much and was consistently low on fluids, and I lost weight, as well as muscle mass, strength, and training time during a critical period. Once out of the hospital, I surprised myself by winning several races in a row, but by the time the holidays came around, I felt weak again, as if I couldn’t overcome the energy and muscle loss from earlier in the season.
That was how I felt going into the 2013 World Championships in Austria, yet I was determined to medal and thought I had a good chance. But during the super G, I landed a jump, got stuck into some soft snow and my legs buckled, sending me head over heels down the mountain several times before coming to a hard stop. I could feel right away that something terrible had happened. I began screaming on the side of the hill, I was in so much pain. It was more pain than I had ever felt in my life, and while I was being airlifted off the hill, I was full of anxiety and crying hysterically, thinking that this time my career was finally over.
When the doctors showed me my MRIs at the hospital, I knew right away that my season, if not my career, was finished. I had torn the ACL and MCL in my right knee and fractured my right tibial plateau—the bone near the knee that is one of the most critical weight-bearing bones in the body. What this meant was that my right knee, on which half of my athletic career literally depended, was nearly destroyed—and the 2014 Olympics were only one year away. I was devastated. As soon as I could leave the hospital in Austria, I flew back to Colorado, making fast arrangements to have reconstructive surgery the day after I landed.
Since I had ripped more than one ligament in my knee and fractured a nearby bone, the surgery was long and complicated—so was the recovery process. My right leg looked like some sort of science experiment—swollen, bruised, and crisscrossed with scars—and I was on crutches for weeks. It took a good deal of mental and emotional resolve to remain positive and focus on walking again, let alone training.
Still, the day after I had surgery, with the Olympics in mind, I started doing core work on the therapy table, twisting with a medicine ball and crunching up with weights. Doing something—anything—for my body made me feel instantly better, and as soon as I could be up on crutches, I starting training with my one good leg on a rowing machine and stationary bike with my brace out in front of me. That spring I also started spending more time with Tiger, and being around him helped: He was also a professional athlete, after all, and had undergone similar career-threatening surgeries, and I found it soothing to have someone of his caliber understand what I was going through.
More than half a year after my fall, after months on crutches and doing daily rehab, it was time to test my knee on skis. I flew to Chile, and after I took my first turn, I was instantly relieved: I could ski. I was going to be okay.
In November, I started training with my usual fervor, trying to build up my strength as quickly as possible for the start of 2013–2014 season, which was just one month away. I had missed so much training time, and I knew that I had a long road before me just to catch up to the place where many of my competitors were. With this thought in the back of my mind, I started to treat my workouts as if they were races, flying down training runs at the same speeds I would if I were competing.
It was during one of these agressive runs on Copper Mountain in Colorado, in mid-November, just three months before the Olympic Games, when I crashed again. The fall wasn’t as bad as some of my previous ones, but the results were still disastrous: I had retorn the ACL in my right knee.
I was devastated. I felt as if I had worked too long and too hard after my surgery to let something, anything, sideline me. So nine days after my fall, I decided to continue racing with a torn ACL and flew to the World Cup in Lake Louise, Canada. Racing was painful and I felt unsteady, but the fact that I was able to compete gave me hope that I could strengthen the muscles around the ligament enough to be able to race the Games in February.
That December, I returned to Val d’Isère—the course I knew so well—to race the World Cup. But on the downhill, as Tiger watched from the sidelines, I felt my knee suddenly buckle under me, and I pulled up. It was an awful feeling, to have no control over one leg, and I knew that I couldn’t keep racing. So I stopped, mid-course—I knew I had reinjured my knee. I flew home and immediately had MRIs. The results weren’t good: I had shredded my meniscus. A few weeks later, in mid-January, I announced that I wouldn’t compete in the 2014 Olympics.
That winter I sank into depression, something I had battled off and on in the past. I had decided to have my second knee surgery in Florida, but it wasn’t close to where Tiger lived, and I also knew he had a busy competition schedule that didn’t leave him much time at home. I felt like I needed a friend to help me through yet another long, grueling recovery process—my second in less than a year—and I decided on a whim to drive to a nearby animal shelter. There were so many dogs there, all of them barking wildly. Finally I came to the last kennel, where a brindle mutt sat quietly, staring up at me. I asked the shelter workers if I could play with him, and they told that he had recently been hit by a car, had a bad knee, and couldn’t be very active. That makes two of us, buddy, I thought, and I told them that I wanted Leo, which is what they had already named him.
In late January, Leo, my sister Laura, and I rented a little apartment in Pensacola, near where I had my second surgery. During the operation, while repairing the ACL, they found my meniscus so shredded that they almost had to remove it completely. Thankfully, Dr. Andrews was able to put it back together. Later, I learned that Dr. Andrews had told my trainers that because of all the damage there was only a fifty-fifty chance I’d be able to compete again.
That winter and spring I suffered many dark days as I wrestled with my current reality and my chances of making it back to the top of my sport. My recovery was longer and more involved than that after my first surgery, and I felt defeated whenever I thought about how hard I had worked the year before only to be in the same place, at the same time, all over again. I fought to stay hopeful, but I often didn’t feel positive. I had a hard time sleeping, but I didn’t want to get up in the morning, either, and there were many days when my physical therapist, Lindsay Winninger, had to pull me out from under the covers.
The physical part was just as draining as the emotional. During my first recovery, I had found strength and resilience in doing physical rehab, but this time around, the exercises felt exhausting and repetitive of everything I had done the year before. It was emotionally difficult to find the will to train, and it was also physically exhausting: I had lost so much muscle in my right leg that it barely seemed to function, making the rehab a continual struggle, day after day.
During that time, there were days when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, yet more often than not, everything looked black, and I shut down, keeping to myself in my bedroom with only Leo for company. The possibility of skiing again was the only thing that kept me going. This time I didn’t care about the competition, the World Cup wins, or the Olympics—I just wanted to be back on the mountain, doing what I love.
Finally, in October, I was ready to try to ski. I took my first turns on my new knee in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and I knew right away that I had defied the odds again. At the time, I had never been happier to be back on the hill.
That December, I raced my first World Cup in Lake Louise, Canada, where I finished eighth—my worst standing there since 2007. I was angry, only because I knew I could have done so much better, and the disappointment seemed to snap a competitive part of my brain back into place. As a result, the next day I raced the downhill and won, marking my sixtieth World Cup win. Once again, I was back.
That race also meant something else: I was only two victories away from tying Annemarie Moser-Pröll’s thirty-five-year-old record of sixty-two World Cup wins. I knew that I didn’t have a ton of training under my belt that season, but I believed in myself and thought that I could break the record that winter. Several weeks after Lake Louise, I won the downhill at Val d’Isère, and then tied Moser-Pröll’s record in Cortina, Italy.
The day that I broke the record, January 19, 2015, after standing on the Cortina peak that morning, I felt triumphant. My parents, stepparents, sister Laura, and Tiger had all flown to Europe to watch me race, and even though I hadn’t been able to go to the 2014 Olympics, after two almost-career-ending surgeries, becoming the most successful female skier ever, to me, was just as good as another Olympic gold.
That season I finished the year with eight World Cup wins and two World Cup titles, tying the all-time world record for a total of nineteen titles. If there had been any question about whether I could come back after double knee surgery, the doubts were over. I was back and on top again.
Something else joyful happened to me that winter: I got Bear. Earlier in the year, I had realized that Leo needed a companion, especially after I began traveling to Europe to ski (and he started hiding in my closet, sad that I was no longer around all the time). So I searched online and found an adorable-looking mutt at a foster home near Vail. Leo and I drove to meet him, and we both fell in love. I called him Bear and took him home.
Several months later, Tiger and I decided to separate. Our relationship had become increasingly difficult to maintain, given our conflicting event schedules and two different homes across the country, and while we parted amicably, I was grateful to have both dogs with me that spring to keep me company and help me through the separation.
All in all, it’s been nearly thirty years since I started skiing, and my body has accomplished many amazing things. When I look back on life so far, I sometimes can’t believe how many hours I’ve spent in the gym or on the bike, or how many training runs I’ve done in the snow, rain, blazing sun, or freezing cold. I’ve raced all over the world and traveled to more countries in one week than many people see in a lifetime. I’ve tied and broken records and won titles, medals, trophies, crystal globes, even a baby cow. My body has survived horrific crashes, broken bones, torn ligaments, fractured body parts, debilitating pain, and two intense knee surgeries. I’ve also endured what so many other women have, too: breakups, relationship problems, and a divorce, along with all the insecurities about how my body looks to others and how it looks to me. But I’ve been fortunate to come through it all, and in the end, I owe everything to my body. My strong body.
I’m a professional alpine ski racer—I have been since I was fifteen. I love my sport, I love spending time up in the mountains, and I love the feeling of going fast and controlling every muscle in my body to carve around gates while throttling down mountain faces steeper than the stairs in the Empire State Building.
I also love my body—it’s what’s allowed me to do my sport and to do it well. And I’ve learned to love the way my body looks, even though my physical appearance has changed during my career as an elite athlete. At times, I’ve been trim and toned, while on other occasions, I’ve looked thicker and less muscular. I’ve gained and lost fat, I’ve built and rebuilt muscle, I’ve put on and dropped water weight, and I’ve injured myself to the point of being unable to move for months, only days after winning races. I’ve stood on Olympic podiums, walked red carpets, appeared on countless television shows, been on magazine covers, and made the pages of swimsuit issues. I haven’t always felt great about how my body looks, but through it all, I’ve always loved my body.
But today I love how my body looks more than I ever have—and not just because I’m more toned (which I am), but because I’ve learned how to eat and work out to make my body stronger than it’s ever been before, both inside and out.
The reason I wanted to write this book is to share with you my journey to get strong so that I can help you, too, look and feel better than you have ever before, whether you’re heavy or skinny, thin-hipped or full-figured, short or tall, or somewhere in between. I believe that every body is beautiful and strong. And if you learn how to leverage that beauty and strength while eating clean and exercising right, you’ll look and feel better than you ever have before, whether your goal is to lose weight, boost your health, or simply look fabulous in a bathing suit, a little black dress, or your baggiest pair of pj’s.
How exactly can this book help you?
First, this isn’t a typical diet book. I don’t believe in diets; many will only make you miserable, not thinner and certainly not healthier. I know because I’ve tried nearly every diet there is—low-carb, high-carb, all-protein, no-sugar, and nearly everything in between. And what I’ve learned after many trials, tribulations, and times of utmost despondency is that dieting just doesn’t work.
Second, this isn’t a typical exercise book. I don’t believe that there’s one way to work out or one type of exercise that will make everyone fabulously skinny, ridiculously toned, and superbly happy. Instead, I believe that there’s an exercise or workout program perfect for you that will transform your body—once you find and adopt it. I call this finding your Fitness You, and it’s one of the best ways to get strong and lean. I found my Fitness Me through skiing, cycling, and strength training, and it’s helped make me stronger and leaner, as well as healthier and happier.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this book:
• How to eat to get strong and lean and to look better naked without ever counting calories, giving up carbs, never drinking coffee again, or going on some other crazy diet plan
• A one-week step-by-step food plan to help you stop eating processed junk and start eating healthy, fat-burning foods
• My favorite easy-to-make meals and snacks that will help you drop unhealthy weight and add muscle
• A step-by-step plan to find your Fitness You so you can start doing workouts you love to help your body look and feel its best
• How to work out at home in minutes without a DVD, personal trainer, or expensive exercise equipment
• Sixty-five of my favorite Get Strong exercises, with instructional photos and detailed descriptions
• Nine different circuits that you can do anywhere, anytime, no matter your job or daily schedule
Throughout this book, I emphasize getting strong, not getting thin or losing lots of weight. I don’t believe women need to be thin to be beautiful—I’m not supermodel thin, after all, and I still think I’m beautiful. What’s more, not everyone has the genes or even the ability to lose a ton of weight and whittle down to a size 4—nor should everyone necessarily try for health reasons.
Why make it your goal to get strong and share this amazing adventure with me? There are many reasons to get strong, but here are five major benefits you can see if you commit to transforming your eating and exercise habits with me:
1 YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE WILL TRIPLE. The stronger I am, the more confident I feel—it’s that simple. When I exercise and eat right, I’m tighter, sleeker, and sexier, and I feel like all of my muscles are working efficiently and effectively together. I can feel my metabolism firing, and I’m hungry for healthy foods that I know will fuel, not fatten, my body.
When I don’t work out or eat right, on the other hand, I feel pretty terrible—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m low in energy, I hunch forward, I crave junk, I can lose my motivation to work out, and I don’t have that same spark for life that I usually have. Worse, I can start to feel uncomfortable in my own body and question myself, like whether I can really pull off a tight-fitting dress or even keep winning trophies, titles, and medals.
If you’re thinking, She’s an Olympic skier. Of course she feels more confident working out and eating right!, you should know that strength is not a confidence booster for athletes only. I’ve seen friends, family, even women I don’t know at my home gym in Vail become more confident when they eat and work out to get strong rather than to get thin or reach an arbitrary number on the scale. Because getting strong isn’t just a physical goal: It’s a mental and emotional one, too—an objective that can empower you to get more out of life, whether you want to ski faster like me or simply achieve whatever you set your mind and body to do.
DID YOU KNOW?
What Feels Better Than Losing Weight
Making it your goal to get strong can boost your confidence as much as becoming fit or even losing a ton of weight, according to research. Studies show that people feel significantly better about themselves and how they look simply when they start to work out regularly, regardless of whether they drop a single pound or get any fitter as a result.
2 YOU WILL FEEL MORE BEAUTIFUL AND SEXY, NO MATTER YOUR SIZE OR SHAPE. In my opinion—and in the opinion of most people I know—a strong body is a beautiful body. I love how muscular my legs, butt, arms, and abs look, and how eating clean and working out have helped define my curves. I feel sexier and more feminine when I’m strong, like all my muscles are pulled up together and that my body will look spectacular, regardless of what the bathroom scale says, in any outfit I pull together.
When you commit to getting strong, you agree to go on an incredible journey that will transform your physical appearance as much as it will your physical and mental well-being. Here’s how:
• You will add muscle and drop flab without going on a diet or starving yourself.
• You will help your bust look shapelier, your waist trimmer, your thighs leaner, your butt tighter, your arms more sculpted, and your legs longer by adopting a strength-training routine and eating clean.
• You will improve your posture and look taller after just a little time in the weight room.
• You will help your skin look clearer, your hair healthier, and your nails stronger by eating more healthy whole foods.
• You will move more easily and elegantly in everything you do, with better balance and coordination, by eating right and combining some cardio with strength work.
Best of all, when you agree to get strong, you also agree to help your body look as beautiful and sexy as it possibly can in a way that your body will welcome, not fight against.
3 YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH IN WAYS YOU NEVER KNEW POSSIBLE. You’ve heard it before: Eating right and working out are the two best ways to improve your health and protect yourself from low energy, illness, and disease. But not every diet or exercise program will make you healthy. In fact, some diets, as I’ll discuss in chapter 2, can actually harm your health, while some workout plans, if they’re too intense or poorly structured, won’t give you results without boosting your risk of injury and burnout.
Making it your goal to get strong, though, is synonymous with making it your goal to get healthy. When you work to get strong, you eat to give your body all the nutrients it needs for good health, and you don’t cut out food groups, starve yourself, eat only processed foods, or adopt other habits that can hurt your health.
Why You Shouldn’t Always Believe What You See
When you flip open a magazine, it’s easy to think that everyone has a perfect body—no dimples, sags, cellulite, or other flaws. As a pro athlete, I’m always doing photo shoots for magazines or commercials, and I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between “real” photos and the pictures that end up in magazines and advertisements. Most photos are airbrushed or retouched to remove cellulite and make women look thinner. I was even airbrushed once (and not by choice!) so that my abs looked less muscular. And don’t forget about the effect that filters can have on photos you see posted on social media—the right filter used on a photo taken at the right angle can make almost anyone look like a size 2.
When you make it your goal to get strong, you also agree to start exercising in a way that will make your body feel good. You don’t go to the gym twice a day, do a bunch of crazy exercises you don’t like, or adopt another type of exercise program that will leave you injured, in pain, or unhappy.
Even better, making it your goal to get strong is an intention you can sustain for years, not weeks or months—which is as long as most people can last on restrictive diets or absurd workout plans. And of course, the longer you stay strong, the more you will improve your health.
4 YOU WILL DISCOVER MORE HAPPINESS AND JOY IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE. Training is hard work. Believe me, there are days when I don’t feel like working out at all and would rather watch Law & Order (my favorite TV show) and eat ice cream (my favorite food) on the couch. And while every once in a while I give myself permission to do exactly that, those days are few and far between.
I don’t force myself to work out because it’s part of my job—I do it because I love it and I know that getting and feeling strong will make me happier. Eating clean and working out have helped me be more optimistic and in the right frame of mind to discover more of the little joys in life—things I don’t always see when my mood is clouded by not eating right or exercising.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Natural Way to Boost Your Mood
Studies show that exercise works like an antidepressant, boosting levels of the body’s “feel-good” chemical serotonin. In fact, many psychiatrists now prescribe exercise to help treat depression.
Ever heard of runner’s high, the euphoria people can feel after working out? (It doesn’t happen only after running—I hate running, so I know.) That’s what getting strong is like: It makes you high on happiness. In fact, studies show that just one single day of eating healthy and finding some time to exercise can boost your mood significantly.
To get the most joy, though, you should try to find the foods and exercises that will make your individual body feel best. Similar to how not every diet and fitness regimen will make you healthy, not all eating and exercise plans will make you happy. Throughout this book, you’ll learn to tailor my eating and exercise recommendations to suit your likes, dislikes, and lifestyle.
Getting Strong Will Get You Healthy
The Science-Backed Reason It’s Good to Break Up with Skinny
Everyone is born with a natural predisposition for a certain type of body. This is why some people are tall and others are short; some are naturally thin while others are bigger boned. Part of this is genetics, of course, but many researchers also believe in something more specific called the set-point theory, the idea that each of us is born with built-in physiological controls dictating how much weight our bodies like to carry. Lose more weight than your set point mandates, and your body will fight it by slowing your metabolism and boosting appetite. Conversely, gain more weight than your set point wants, and your body will try to stymie that weight gain—although most people are immune to this, thanks to the prevalence of supernaturally calorie-dense but nutrient-devoid food in our diets.
The interesting thing about set point, though, is that it shows our bodies function optimally when we’re at our natural weight. Maintain your set point, and research shows you’ll have more energy, be less likely to get sick, and even feel happier and more optimistic.
If you’ve tried to get skinny in the past without results, there’s a good chance that you physically can’t get skinny—your body’s set point won’t allow it, no matter how little you eat. This is another reason diets can be so ineffective, because your body will plateau at the weight it wants, regardless of how little you eat or how much you exercise.
5 YOU WILL HELP EMPOWER YOUR BODY AND MIND TO SEEK NEW HEIGHTS AND GOALS. At the very core of this book, I believe that getting strong is all about empowering your body and your mind. When I feel strong, I feel like I can accomplish anything I want. This doesn’t mean just winning gold medals or World Cup titles, but also making friends, spending more time with my family, doing all the things I love, and having the confidence and energy to try new things and go on new adventures.
There’s something else extremely liberating about getting strong: It has helped me learn to love my body, no matter my size or shape. There are still things I want to improve on physically, mentally, and emotionally, but I’m proud of how I look and of the work that I’ve put into my body to get it to the point where I can still ski and win races, even after all my crashes and injuries.
I can’t tell you how to love your body. No one can. Many self-help books make some big guarantees, but in reality, only you know what you need to do to accept and love your body.
What I can do is share my experiences as a woman whose life has been shaped by my body to help show you how to love your own body. This is what getting strong is all about—building strength on the inside as much as on the outside. Because once you learn to love your body, you can do and be anything in the world that you want. I know, because I’ve done it.
What are you waiting for? Your journey to get strong starts now.