Lindsey Vonn nearing return to snow
VAIL, Colo. -- For six months, Lindsey Vonn has thought about little else other than her reunion with skiing.
She spent four hours a day in the gym trying to get her surgically repaired right knee healthy enough to step back into her ski boots. She spent even more hours sitting by a river bank with a fly-fishing rod in her hands, peacefully pondering what it would feel like to return.
A thought she would quickly stifle -- too painful with her knee still mending.
"Because I feel like I'm claustrophobic when I'm not skiing," Vonn said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I just want to go fast."
And very soon, that will happen again.
Vonn is way, way, way ahead of schedule in her return to the slopes. She wasn't supposed to be back on snow until around November. But she's planning to ski this weekend in Portillo, Chile.
Nothing too aggressive, of course, just a few easy runs with the U.S. team to test out her knee. But later at the camp, she's hoping to navigate through some slalom gates and maybe, just maybe -- knee willing, of course -- even open it up on the course.
"But my expectations are sometimes a little bit out of whack," said Vonn, who announced in March she's dating golfer Tiger Woods.
The four-time overall World Cup champion is eyeing a possible return to competition in late November at a stop in Beaver Creek, Colo., which is near her hometown of Vail. That's about three months ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February, where she will defend her downhill title.
As for her expectations in Sochi, well, they remain as lofty as ever.
"I wouldn't change my odds, just because I was injured," Vonn said. "I'm going to be back just as good, if not better, than I was before."
First, it starts with taking a few easy turns on snow.
Her surgeon, Dr. Bill Sterett, has already put some restrictions on the return. Namely, she must wear a brace.
"We're negotiating," Vonn said. "He'd rather I wear it to have a little bit more stability."
After all, she is coming off a major knee injury.
Vonn shredded her ACL and MCL ligaments during a bad crash at the world championships in Schladming, Austria, more than six months ago. She's viewed that wipeout dozens of times, just to figure out what happened (she hit a patch of softer snow, causing her right ski to stop and then buckle as she flipped over her ski tips).
"I've had crashes that were honestly much worse than this one," Vonn said.
At the time, it looked as if the Sochi Games might be in jeopardy for her.
That no longer appears to be the case. She said her knee is feeling so good these days that she no longer needs to ice it after workouts.
"It's about 98 percent equal (to the good knee)," said Vonn, the scar on her knee barely visible.
To build up her knee, Vonn has been vigorously working under the supervision of trainer Martin Hager. On Wednesday, in a gym at the base of a ski lift, she warmed up on the treadmill and then went through a series of stretching exercises, most of which designed to increase her balance.
"Light workout," she said, with a laugh.
Listening to everything from Selena Gomez to rapper Wiz Khalifa, Vonn breezed through the workout, hardly even needing a break.
"We're happy with her progress from her knee injury," Hager said. "We're very happy."
So is her doctor.
"The ACL is great. The knee feels great. Everything is looking good," Sterett said. "And I know she's chomping at the bit."
To take her mind off skiing as she recovered, Vonn picked up some new hobbies. She discovered a love of fly fishing -- "I've got my own gear," she proudly said -- and of all things water related, including jet-skiing, scuba diving and snorkeling.
"I'm really relaxed and happy and kind of at peace with my life," she said. "I'm in a good place."
Part of that, she said, is due to Woods, who's been "a great supporter," Vonn said, especially as she recovers from the ACL injury. Woods can relate having gone through major knee surgery a few years ago.
"It was great to have him help me through it," said Vonn, who followed Woods around the golf course at tournaments this season. "It's been a slow process. I'm not very good at being patient, either. But he helped me with that."
Just be careful when asking her thoughts on marriage -- it's a sticky subject. She insisted she's never getting married again after her divorce from Thomas Vonn.
"I'm done with that. The box is checked," Lindsey Vonn said. "I don't really believe that you need to be married to someone to be their life partner."
Someday down the road, though, Vonn would like to start a family -- after skiing has run its course.
"I want to make sure that I've done what I want to do in my sport. I don't want to leave skiing early," she said. "I want to feel like I've done everything I can do. So, we'll see."
She laughed, as she stretched on a couch inside a ritzy hotel room.
"I'm just really excited to go skiing," Vonn said.