Lindsey Van was told many times that she was too big to ski jump. In a sport where you try to launch yourself further down the hill than your competitors, lightness is an advantage. Van, however, has strength. Her physical power and technical skill launched her to 15 U.S. national titles and the 2009 World Championship. Her internal strength and stubborn will launched her to the forefront of the movement to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics.
It was an honor to hear Van speak this past weekend in Charlotte at the annual convention for the Association for Women in Sports Media. She shared her thoughts on women’s sports branding in a breakout session, then joined the entire group on Lake Norman to talk about ski jumping, her battle with the International Olympic Committee and what it was like to work with director and producer Bill Kerig on the documentary Ready to Fly, scheduled to be released this fall.
During my morning swim workout, I couldn’t get Lindsey’s story out of my mind. On the surface, it’s a classic battle for gender inclusion in sport, but as with anything that strikes a chord with your soul, there’s so much more to it than that. Forever quotable because she is herself — confident, brash and fun-loving — she gave me plenty to think about.
Make the world better by following your passion
Lindsey was faced with a choice: Accept that the International Olympic Committee was not going to allow women to ski jump or take up the fight. She never fancied herself a crusader. She just wanted to focus on being an athlete and she wanted an opportunity to compete in the Olympics. “I decided I can face it head on or run away,” she said. The crusade began for selfish reasons — so that she could compete in the Olympics. But it quickly grew into a realization that by getting out of her comfort zone and into this political fight, she could make things better for another generation of female athletes. Sometimes you don’t have to pick your battles. They’re given to you. And given to you for a reason — because you’re the best one to take up the cause. Even if you don’t see it in the moment.
Decide what you want
The world is full of people declaring what they want and then not getting it. Curious isn’t it? “If you want something — if you REALLY want it, not just say you want it — you can usually get there,” Lindsey said. Makes me stop and think. Am I caught up in some “wants” because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do? Am I caught in “wants” which were true for me 10 years ago, or six months ago, or seven days ago but may no longer hold the same passion for me? What is that I really want?
Van was told many times that she was too big to ski jump. She failed to listen to those people. “There is not just one body type that works for a sport,” she said. “We need to make it available to everyone to do.” Had Lindsey listened to those who said she was too big to ski jump, well, the world would have been gypped of all she has to offer. To be clear, Lindsey may not have the “quintessential” ski jumper body, but she is extraordinarily fit and trained and athletic. The lesson here — you don’t need to look like everyone else to succeed. You only need to love what you do.
Have a little moxie along the way
In the debate about including women’s ski jumping in the Olympics, some older men questioned the medical implications of the sport on the female athlete. Aren’t you concerned that your uterus may fall out? Yes, seriously, Lindsey was asked this question. It was totally ridiculous. Ask her a ridiculous question, and she’s going to give you a ridiculous (and brash) answer. “My uterus is on the inside,” Lindsey said. “You should be concerned about the guys. Why don’t you ask them to check their boots for their balls.”