Seven months after father’s death, Mikaela Shiffrin has a new perspective on skiing

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Today, U.S. Ski & Snowboard launched the “Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund” in honor of Mikaela Shiffrin’s father, who unexpectedly died on February 2, 2020. The fund was created to raise money for U.S. Ski and Snowboard athletes aiming to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. As part of the fund’s launch, Mikaela recorded a video in which she spoke about her father’s death and the importance of resiliency. She also recently sat down for an interview with On Her Turf.

Bansko, Revisited

The last time Mikaela Shiffrin stepped into a start house, the world was very different.

It was January 26, 2020, and the women’s World Cup circuit was in Bansko, Bulgaria, for a weekend of races. Mikaela – a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose early success came in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom – proved yet again that she is a consistent threat in the speed events. She won a downhill that Friday, followed by a super-G victory two days later. With the pair of wins, Mikaela moved even closer to what everyone – including many of her competitors – expected would be her fourth straight overall World Cup title.

That was the mood in the finish area as Mikaela’s team gathered for a celebratory photo at the end of the weekend. As they climbed atop the podium, Mikaela’s father, Jeff, was exactly where anyone would expect him to be: behind the camera, taking the picture.

Earlier this month, Mikaela revisited that January weekend in Bansko, this time through a different lens. She picked up her father’s phone and began looking through the photos and videos he had taken at that final World Cup stop. She laughed at his selfie from the airplane. She saw his excitement at finding a giant Mikaela Shiffrin cardboard cutout at a sporting goods store in downtown Bansko. And she found a video he took in the finish area, capturing the atmosphere of the venue before the race. “When you look at the kinds of things people take pictures of, it’s like taking a peek into what they’re thinking,” she says.

As she watched the moments her father had captured, Mikaela thought about her own perspective at that time. “I was so worried about, ‘I need to make sure I do my recovery,’ or ‘I need to go to bed on time,’ or ‘I can’t stay at dinner too long because I’m here to race.’ When I think what’s the worst thing that can happen in a race, it used to be that I could fall and get hurt,” she explains. As for her perspective on racing now, she says, “It feels directly connected to what is the worst thing that could happen in life? What is so devastating that you almost can’t come back from it? And I feel like I know now.”

The Worst Thing

Following Bansko, Jeff returned home to Colorado, while Mikaela and her mother, Eileen, continued to northern Italy for a few days of training before Mikaela’s next race. In a phone call a few days later, Jeff – an anesthesiologist – was the first person to warn Mikaela and Eileen about the new coronavirus strain that was barely on the periphery of most people’s attention.

Then, on February 1, Mikaela received an urgent call from her brother, Taylor, who said their father had an accident while at the family’s home in Edwards, Colorado. As Mikaela remembers, her mother – who previously worked as an ICU nurse – went into “nurse mode.”

“She was like, ‘Where is he now? What are they doing? Are they going to get him to Denver? What are the next steps?’” Mikaela recalls. “There’s something about emergency workers and first responders – the ability to think in a situation where everyone else’s brain just freaks out – that’s amazing.”

After scrambling to make flight arrangements, Mikaela’s coach, Mike Day, drove Mikaela and Eileen through the night from Italy to Munich, Germany, where they boarded a 10-hour flight to Denver. Before takeoff, Mikaela recalls her father’s doctor telling them, “’We’re going to do everything we can to keep him alive until you get here.’”

When Mikaela and Eileen arrived at the hospital, Jeff was unconscious, his head was bandaged, and he was breathing through a ventilator. Mikaela says she crawled into bed beside her father and moved his arm so that it draped over her body. She stayed there for nine hours.

Jeff passed away later that day, his family at his side.

The Golden Rules

After her father died, Mikaela thought often about a question he posed when she and Taylor were growing up: “What are the golden rules?” to which Mikaela and her brother would reply, “Be nice. Think first.” When Mikaela and Taylor were old enough, Jeff added a third rule: “Have fun.”

“He felt like we could understand that having fun wasn’t just about going and doing whatever you want because it’s instantly gratifying,” Mikaela explained. “Fun is doing something well and the satisfaction you get from sticking to something.”

In February, Day printed Jeff’s three golden rules on stickers, which he gave to Mikaela. She stuck one to her helmet beside another longtime mantra: ABFTTB (“always be faster than the boys”). She plans on skiing with it this season.

Looking Ahead

To use Mikaela’s term, Jeff was “Team Shiffrin Manager.” He anchored the family at home in Colorado, paying bills, figuring out his daughter’s complicated taxes and sponsor contracts, and ensuring that life ran smoothly for Mikaela and Eileen as they trekked across Europe.

On Her Turf logoMuch of Jeff’s unseen work became apparent to Mikaela in recent months, as she and her mother tried to figure out how to handle it on their own. “We’ve been drowning in everything that you have to do after the head of your household passes away and making sure that everything is set for our lives to actually keep going forward,” Mikaela says.

And then, of course, there’s COVID-19.

Mikaela notes that nothing has been normal about her preparation for the upcoming season. She typically spends part of the summer at training camps in the southern hemisphere, usually somewhere in South America or New Zealand. While she’s had a bit of time on her skis – U.S. Ski & Snowboard set up training camps at Copper Mountain in Colorado in May and Mount Hood in Oregon in July – the 25-year-old enters the season with less snow training than she’s ever had before.

Instead, she focused on strength training. In the spring, when it became clear that she wouldn’t go to a normal gym anytime soon, Mikaela did what many athletes did: she ordered workout equipment and set up a home gym in her garage. Her strength trainer, who normally spends part of the summer with her in Colorado, has instead been in Canada, coaching her via FaceTime.

Still, “I think I’m probably stronger than I’ve ever been,” Mikaela says.

Looking ahead to the start of the 2020-21 season, scheduled to start October 17 in Soelden, Austria, Shiffrin hasn’t set many goals. “In the past, I’ve had nerves and anxiety over races, and feeling pressure,” she explains. “That’s innately part of me, the caring and wanting to do a good job. But then, there’s a whole different perspective that I see now.”

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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.