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Lindsey Vonn is preparing to launch into her last race season. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

Lindsey Vonn Stares Down Records and Retirement

Though an early season injury has her temporarily sidelined, the greatest female skier of all time is still gunning for the ultimate record.

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Lindsey Vonn and her dog are both a bit banged up these days.

While training at Copper Mountain last week—for what she’s officially declared will be her last season of racing—the 34-year-old skier sustained a “hurt knee.” The injury will sideline Vonn for the first set of speed races happening this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. “The good news,” the Vail-based skier tweeted on November 20, “[is] I do NOT need surgery. The bad news; I won’t be able to race in Lake Louise.”

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The previous week, Vonn was sitting down for an interview at Copper with her beloved spaniel, Lucy, on her lap. The dog was sporting a freshly bandaged right paw following a run-in with a car last month. Coincidentally, it’s Vonn’s own right leg that still plagues her regularly, thrusting the seal on her impending retirement after this season.

“It’s the same knee that’s just…giving me a hard time,” she says, patting her right knee. “Yeah, it’s just time.”

Recent crash aside, Vonn often dons a brace on her right knee. She injured it during a crash in the 2013 World Championships, fracturing her tibial plateau and tearing ligaments, and then re-tearing them in a training crash at Copper Mountain the following season. Of course, these only represent a fraction of Vonn’s career injuries, including breaking her right arm in a Copper Mountain training crash two years ago—an injury that left her with a metal rod in place of her humerus bone and extensive nerve damage. Vonn recently posted the X-rays side-by-side with Lucy’s broken paw images on Instagram. For a few weeks following the arm injury, Vonn couldn’t grip her ski pole, so resorted to duct taping it to her hand. The duct tape company thus sent her several free rolls, which she’s now sharing with Lucy.

As for her retirement, Vonn explains that it’s not a feeling of mental readiness that led to her decision to end her race career after this season. It’s a matter of physical necessity.

“I am ready for the next chapter, but it’s not because I wanted to be,” she says. “I’m ready because it has to be. The risk just doesn’t outweigh the reward any more. I’d like to, you know, ski recreationally in 10 years. If I have children, I’d like to be able to ski with them. At some point, you have to look at the next step. It naturally happened. It came to a point where it’s time.”

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Knowing that the end is near, Vonn, in addition to planning post-career work with her sponsors and possibly launching her own beauty line, is focused on soaking up every aspect of her ski racing lifestyle. This means, spending more time with her teammates, including a recent “girls’ night” at the Pepsi Center watching the Colorado Avalanche take on her boyfriend P.K. Subban’s team, The Nashville Predators. In the coming months, Vonn is set on taking a lot of pictures and fully absorbing her surroundings.

“Instead of always being in the hotel room and super-focused on the race the next day, I’ve definitely tried, especially the last two years, actually going out to dinner with the team, having a glass of wine if I win … really enjoying it and not having it be so much of a job,” she says. “I love the job, don’t get me wrong. But there’s also a level of needing to chill. I’m 34 and I’m ready to chill. That’s what this whole season is going to be about; enjoying it and having fun, making some good final memories at each stop on the tour.”

That’s not to say that Vonn won’t be charging down mountains in her trademark, headlong fashion. She does have Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86 World Cup wins to break, after all.

“I’m never going to be in the starting gate to just check out the scenery,” she says. “As much as I’m going to soak this season in, I’m still out there to win. I’m still hoping to break the record.”

Vonn closed out last season with her 82nd victory, winning the World Cup Finals downhill in Are, Sweden. Had she been able to race this weekend, Vonn would have likely moved closer to breaking Stenmark’s record in Lake Louise, where she clinched her first ever World Cup win back in 2004 and has subsequently landed a whopping 17 victories.

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In her career, Vonn has also landed three Olympic medals (two bronze and one gold), seven world championship medals (two gold, three silver and two bronze) and an unprecedented number of World Cup titles—four overall, eight in downhill, five in super-G and three in super-combined—for 20 wins total.

“My main focus when I set out on my career was winning the Olympics,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about how many titles I could get, or even how many world championship medals I could get. The success I’ve had was so much more than I ever thought was possible.”

Back in the gym and working hard at recovery, there’s sure to be more this season once Vonn is back on course.

“You know me. I’m never going to stop working hard,” Vonn says.

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