“To be successful, I had to be a lot more than a ski racer,” Lindsey Vonn, winner of four World Cup overall championships and the gold medal in downhill at the 2010 Winter Olympics, tells Entrepreneur.
It was a tenet Vonn’s father stressed throughout her ski racing career, during which time she worked on herself “as a business,” ultimately preparing for when she’d have to retire as a professional athlete and chart a new course.
That day came in February 2019 when Vonn was 34. She’d just won the bronze medal in women’s downhill at the 2019 World Championships held in Sweden and became the first woman racer to receive medals at six different world championships.
Image Credit: HEAD Sportswear
“The transition from business to skiing wasn’t that hard.”
Like most professional athletes, Vonn’s retirement and career pivot came earlier than it does for people in other fields. But thanks to the strong relationships and brand Vonn built over the years, “the transition from skiing to business wasn’t that hard,” she says.
Armed with the contacts she needed to “get through this next chapter of life,” she landed a venture-capital-focused internship through her “dear friend” Paul Kwan, who acted as a mentor, and started making her mark on the business world.
Vonn’s since been an advisor to several companies and funds; created a skiwear collection with American-Austrian manufacturing company HEAD; launched a ski goggle line with Swedish brand YNIQ; founded full-service production house Après Productions and The Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which is committed to empowering underserved girls; and continues to be an active investor.
“There are so many things that directly correlate from ski racing to business,” Vonn says.
“I don’t know everything, so I’m just always hungry to learn.”
Constantly striving to “grow and be better” is one principle that readily translates over. “The challenge is always knowledge,” Vonn explains. “I don’t know everything, so I’m just always hungry to learn. Whoever I meet, I’m trying to pick their brain, ask questions and find new ways to not just learn, but also new avenues of entrepreneurship or business or investments.”
“Business is not for the faint-hearted.”
A rock-solid work ethic goes hand in hand with that ongoing knowledge building. “It’s a combination of learning and being very diligent, determined, hardworking,” Vonn says. “Business is not for the faint-hearted.”
“I always try to be confident when I’m entering any room.”
Confidence is another must-have. “You have to be confident in what you’re doing,” Vonn says. “And I think my preparation, knowing who I’m talking to, knowing what I’m doing to the extent that I can know what I’m doing, [is important]. I always try to be confident when I’m entering any room, no matter what room that is, if it’s a boardroom or a business.”
Vonn’s various ventures keep her busy these days, but she still manages to strike a happy work-life balance. One of the biggest shifts making it possible? Her prioritization of sleep health. The entrepreneur has been outspoken about her past struggles with insomnia, which began after she had surgery in 2013.
“I was always a good sleeper before that,” Vonn says, “and just with the pain and the anxiety of knowing that to recover I needed to sleep, all of those things got in my head. And I’ve struggled with sleep ever since.”
For Vonn, taking doctor-prescribed sleep medication helped solve the issue. She also finds that journaling before bed and keeping an “unplugged” routine help get her “into the mindset that it’s bedtime.”
Vonn’s dogs also play an important role in helping her relax and unwind. “Whenever I can just get a moment to sit on the couch and watch some Law and Order with my dogs and maybe have some Ben and Jerry’s, that’s always a good way for me to de-stress,” Vonn says.
“Going back on the mountain reminds me of why I started skiing.”
Skiing still has a place in Vonn’s heart too. “Since I retired, going back on the mountain reminds me of why I started skiing. I love just being out there with friends and family and being with nature. My phone’s away. I am very present. Hopefully it’s not too cold because I hate the cold.”
Image Credit: Claire Abbe
Vonn knows better than most what it looks like to turn the page on one successful chapter and open to the next, and her best piece of advice for anyone who’s struggling to figure out their next steps? “Find your passion and what challenges you.”
“A lot of people make changes because they think this new thing is going to make them happy, but they don’t truly understand what makes them happy,” Vonn explains. “If you can figure that out, no matter what job you choose and no matter what path you choose, you’ll be in a good place. But finding what makes yourself tick is the most important thing.”