On a crisp andsunny late spring day, only small patches of snow are still visible on themountains cradling Park City, Utah. But the prospect of summer holds nomelancholy for 36-year-old Picabo Street, the former downhill superstar."I'm really into horses now," she says as she strides through thedining room of the Stein Eriksen Lodge at the Deer Valley resort, herstrawberry-blonde hair pulled into a long ponytail. "This is a great seasonfor them."
Yes, the skier once propelled by the mantra Get back on the horse now does justthat almost every day. "I've always loved the peaceful, intelligent powerof a horse," says Street, who keeps four horses--two Appaloosas and twoNorwegian Fjords--on her 10-acre spread in Park City and has a fifth at atraining facility nearby. "They are such mirrors of your energy level. WhenI retired and started working with them, they'd run from me. I was so jacked upand intense. I'd have this mission in mind, and they'd go, Nonononono, you needto calm down before you come talk to us."
While Street haslearned to project tranquillity with the equine set, away from the stables shestill radiates the passion and purpose that drove her past numerous injuries tofive international skiing medals, tying her with Cindy Nelson for the most everby an American woman. In the five years since her retirement, Street hasstarted a foundation, become a mother--her son, Treyjan, turns three inAugust--and embraced a new cause, the prevention of child abuse. And there aremore projects on the horizon. "I'm just getting to a place where I'm readyto hammer it again," she says.
When Street lefther native Idaho (she was named after the small town of Picabo--derived from aNative American word meaning "shining waters") to hammer it in herfirst career, she made an indelible mark. After getting kicked off the U.S. skiteam as a teen for her rebelliousness, she was reinstated a few months laterand won a surprise Olympic downhill silver medal at Lillehammer in '94. For thenext three years she dominated the sport, with back-to-back World Cup downhilltitles in '95 and '96--the first American skier, man or woman, to win a seasontitle--and a gold medal in the downhill at the 1996 World Championships inSpain. "She had an intimidation factor," says 2006 Olympian LindseyKildow, who grew up idolizing Street. "She knew she was going to win, andeveryone at the start house knew she was going to win."
Street's brashnessdidn't always endear her to teammates, but crowds loved her, and she loved themback. "The more attention she got, the better she'd do," says formerU.S. women's coach Paul Major. Street's star rose so high and so fast that Nikemade her the first winter athlete with a signature shoe.
At the end of '96,Street blew out her already reconstructed left ACL in a practice-run crash atVail. But 14 months later, after another reconstruction and an acceleratedrehab, she took Olympic gold in the Super¬†G--an event she had never won inWorld Cup competition--at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. "That was themost magical moment for me," she says. "Winning an Olympic gold medalhad been my dream since I was 10."
Street planned toretire the following year, after the 1999 World Cup event in Vail. "Iwanted to go out on American soil, and I wanted to go out on top," shesays. But 30 days after her victory in Japan she suffered a horrifying crash ina World Cup race in Switzerland (on a Friday the 13th). The wipeout shatteredher left femur, shredded her right knee and, she says, "introduced me tofear for the first time in my life."
Resetting herretirement target for the 2002 Salt Lake Games, Street plowed through anothergrueling rehab, this one lasting nearly two years. But her hard work didn't endin Olympic triumph this time. On the day of the downhill she drew anunfavorable start position--26--and finished 16th. "When people ask if I'mdisappointed that I didn't win a medal in Salt¬†Lake, I have to sayno," says Street. "It wouldn't change how I feel about myself or how Ifeel about my career. And frankly, my competitiveness subsided substantiallyafter I broke my leg. I don't miss racing; I'm very peacefully done."
She still skis, inher capacity as ambassador of the Park City Mountain Resort and as a regularski geek who rushes to the top of Jupiter Peak on powder days to get"freshies." While Street also satisfies her jones for speed by ridingher 10-year-old Appaloosa, Cha-Cha, she says that her real passion these daysis "making a positive difference for the next generation."
Soon afterretiring she started the Picabo Street of Dreams Foundation to providefinancial assistance to children chasing their own goals. But when she cameacross alarming statistics about child abuse, she decided to channel her energyinto that cause first. She's now the spokesperson for the National Children'sAlliance, which oversees more than 600 child advocacy centers around thecountry. "One in four girls and one in six boys are [reported to be]touched inappropriately by the time they are 18 years old," Street says.Studies indicate that only about 10% of that is actually reported. "It's adirty little secret," says Street.
In 2005, Streetstarted a fund-raiser called the Picabo Ski Challenge, held in Park City duringthe first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival. Last January the event made$200,000 for the NCA, double what it raised in '06. "I'm very passionateabout this," she says. "When I had Trey it got even more intense. Italways made me uncomfortable when people labeled me a hero because I came backfrom knee injuries and a broken leg to go 90 miles an hour down a hill. To methat's not heroic; that's self-indulgent. A hero is someone who sacrificeshimself for another. Not that I'm sacrificing anything, but I am using whatimage and celebrity I have to bring awareness to this cause and make a positivedifference. And that makes me feel more comfortable being called a hero. Itfeels substantial."
Street has otherideas brewing, including women-only ski camps, an online coaching business anda campaign to raise money to build a retreat that nonprofits like the NCA, herStreet of Dreams foundation and the U.S. Ski Association can use for trainingand education. But her most important mission now is raising Treyjan, who'snamed after the second-century Roman emperor Trajan, with an assist from formerDuke basketball star Trajan Langdon, whose name stuck with Street when she methim years ago. Street has amicably split from Treyjan's dad, N.J. Pawley, ahorsemanship consultant and blacksmithing artist with whom she shares parentingduties. "Motherhood is the hardest and most thankless thing I've ever donein my life," Street says. "It's incredibly humbling. But it's also themost beautiful thing. After all I've experienced, I think I can say that it'swhat life is all about."
The ultimate gloryfor retired stars is a stretch of road in their name.
In the end thebest athletes aren't just driven--they're driven on
Street's triumph in Nagano was followed by devastating leg injuries, but bySalt Lake '02 she was back.