Olympic slalom skier Resi Stiegler is persistent. Despite devastating injuries impeding her from competition at various times throughout her career, she is on the verge of her third Winter Olympics appearance.
Once a teenage skiing prodigy, Stiegler’s experience will aid her as one of the veteran leaders representing Team USA in PyeongChang.
Stiegler, who is from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, burst onto the scene at the 2003 Alpine Ski World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, where she placed 11th in slalom.
She made her Olympic debut when she was 20 at the 2006 games in Torino, placing 12th in slalom and 11th in the combined. She placed 29th in the grand slalom in Sochi in 2014.
Sports Illustrated caught up with Stiegler as she was preparing to compete in the World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland ahead of the Olympics.
Sports Illustrated: This is your third Olympics. How does that make you feel?
Resi Stiegler: I'm happy to be around still. I had a crazy career. I started off a bit of a phenom with winning a lot of things and projecting into the future I should’ve been a bit more on the Lindsay Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin track.
I had a string of injuries that lasted for about seven years, and I still had podiums after those injuries. I'm on the team, and qualifying for my third Olympics is an accomplishment. A little bit different than I set out to be doing when I was 16.
SI: Having said that, what are your personal goals for these Games?
RS: You have to go in a bit open-minded. The Olympics are a race, but the best going in or the best at the time could lose. It’s a one day, 30 seconds to a one-minute thing where you could make the biggest mistake of your life if you're the best in the world.
SI: A World Cup debut at 17 and an Olympian at 20. You talk about waiting for that moment since you were 10. Did the early success come at you fast and how were you able to process all that?
RS: I think that’s why I’m doing well now and why it’s a little bit harder for me to understand what was going on for me at 16. When you’re that young, I wasn’t a very mature kid. At 16 I was a lot younger than the competitors that I was racing against.
My energy has helped me stay in the game with all the youngsters being [that I’m] 32 now. It also plays well in my favor being calmer and knowing all these years, on game day, what you need to do and what not to worry about.
SI:You competed on a torn ACL and a torn meniscus. (2015 slalom event of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships) How has the mental toughness from that experience prepared you for future events?
RS: That was a crazy year. I was having a good season and I blew my knee out in January. We had the World Championships in February, and I knew that I had to do everything I could to make the team that year. Because financially I couldn’t keep going if I didn’t.
Taking all the b------t away and just making it about the job. I think that mental [part] to do what you need to do to make the job happen is what I’ve been good at.
SI: In the past, you talked about past injuries and having difficulty dealing with the ‘fight within' despite your energy on the outside. How have you managed to get past that?
RS: Being open to the public about it always helped. There were some years that I kept it too quiet. I had 11 surgeries that were major. I think to be able to talk about it with the people that are around you, not just your family and friends, but being able to talk to your fans and realize you're inspiring somebody out there. As an athlete winning is everything. Sometimes you forget that there's only one spot on the top, and the rest of the people in the world don't usually understand that spot or can even imagine getting to that area.
SI: You talk about being an inspiration to other athletes, where did you draw inspiration from to help you through that time?
RS: I’ve noticed dirt bikers. I love watching motocross and supercross. I always thought there was something wrong with me and how I kept getting injured. One day I was watching one of their competitions and I noticed they kept getting injured as well. They just kept coming back. It was part of their sport. Ski racing is a dangerous sport as well.
SI: In addition to your recovery and rehabilitation from injuries, there are videos of you participating in a sort of Zen-themed meditation. Is that something you took up after your injury?
RS: I naturally like the spirits of the wilderness and being able to go out in nature. I spent about 12 years on Maui doing new activities. It's a very spiritual island. They're into mindful thinking, feeling, healing, health and wellness. I started to calm down and realize that if you're going to last long you have to take care of your body and your mind.
SI: What did you learn about yourself during recovery?
RS: I love giving back to people. I love the kids. I love watching the kids come up and giving them energy and hope and letting them know to never give up.
There’s no reason to give up on a dream in this world now. It’s hard to come up with dreams because it’s a world that knocks you down a lot, and there’s a lot of negativity. We’ve got to get back to dreaming and showing these kids anything is possible. You can become anything from anywhere in the world.
SI: You have a younger brother who’s a skier. What was it like growing up? Did you have a sibling rivalry?
RS: Actually, we were not that competitive with each other...We bonded over skiing because he ended up making the U.S ski team after he graduated [college], and he worked hard in school. He loved the camaraderie of the team. I think we grew together at that moment. Now we’re such a team. He’s my best friend and always has my back. He’s the one I go to for anything I need to ask.
SI:The Olympics are around the corner and your schedule is getting hectic. What are some the things you like to do when you’re not competing or training?
RS: Nowadays I try to ask people [things to do]. I was in Lake Iseo, which is in northern Italy, and I asked some people and they said there was this rad lookout over the lake. We went and got snacks and watched the sunset. I’m into just seeing everywhere I go.
Besides that, you're trying to recover and keep your body healthy. There's a lot of walking, yoga and other types of stuff. We play soccer, lift, write, read. There are all sorts of things we do. As well as try to stay off Instagram [laughs]. The black hole of the internet. [laughs]
SI: While you’re competing do you get the chance to attend other events and watch those athletes perform?
RS: Yeah you do. My first Olympics I didn’t. I went to bed at eight every night trying to be the perfect athlete. I don’t think I even went to another ski event. The one in Sochi, I thought, ‘Not everybody gets to go to the Olympics, we’re going to see everything.’ I went to Nordic Combined, cross-country skiing, I got to go to the Gold Medal hockey game.
SI: There are quite a few young Olympians for the 2018 Games. Having been in their shoes before, what advice would you give them?
RS: There is a lot of pressure, unfortunately…So, let that go a little bit and enjoy your time there. Realize that you qualifying for the Olympics is an opportunity that most don't get. Enjoy it, walk around, step out of the zone and see where you are. Experience part of it and bring home a real memory, not just one of winning. Pick something or go to a different event. Meet someone from a different country. Go have coffee with a stranger.
SI: As an athlete, how valuable is it for you and others to realize that you need time to unwind from the rigorous training over the years?
RS: It’s important for myself. I bet you some athletes would say differently. I have teammates who I don’t know if we would agree on the same thing. Each person has a way of doing things. There’s not one right or wrong way. You have to listen to the type of person you are. I’ve over trained a lot and that never got me anywhere. In the end, I’m a pretty hard worker. Stepping back and enjoying what you accomplished and seeing how far you’ve come is a huge part of my success than enjoying it.
SI: If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would you tell her?
RS: Just keep being wild [laughs]. You're going to figure it out along the way. Fun first was always my motto and I wouldn't change that. I'd tell her to keep having a great time but maybe focus [laughs] a little bit more.