Ready. Set. Goal.
with Kikkan Randall
02 Jun, 2020 · Skiing
Kikkan Randal, 5x Olympic Cross Country Ski Racer, describes her journey in sport as strong, patient, and fun. She emphasizes the importace of dreaming big, creating a plan, establishing a strong support system, and visualizing our success.
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Welcome to the Voice In Sport Podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game.
Our guest is Kikkan Randall, a five-time Olympic cross country ski racer from Anchorage, Alaska. Kikkan was a multisport athlete growing up in Alaska until she found her true passion in cross country skiing. She was the first American skier to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the Women's Team Sprint event in 2018 she describes her journey in sport as strong, patient and fun.
I'm excited to share our conversation about the power of setting goals and how putting things together, one step at a time, will ultimately lead to making your dreams a reality. Kikkan shares stories about the importance of creating a team to support you in your journey and how the power of visualization can lead to Olympic gold medals. Kikkan, welcome to the Voice In Sport Podcast.
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Thanks for having me, and it's great to catch up with a teammate.
So, let's start with your journey. I want to start with a little bit of your background in different sports. Talk to us about the sports you did when you were younger, and when did you narrow down to ski racing?
Well, I was fortunate to grow up in a really athletic family. My mom has six siblings and they were all encouraged to do sports at a high level. I have an aunt and an uncle that both went to the Olympics in cross country skiing. My dad's side, he played football growing up, ran track, and then fell in love with Alpine skiing in high school. And so, he actually got me into Alpine skiing as my first sport, the day after my first birthday. I was technically skiing before I could walk.
And then, growing up in Alaska, I just feel like I love being outside. I love being adventurous. Five years old, I watched my first Winter Olympics on television and decided I wanted to go to the Olympics. It was just a matter of what sport I was going to do. So I felt like I tried everything. You know, we had got to ice skate outdoor for recess, skied of all kinds, sledding. I played soccer pretty competitively for a while, right around the time the women's were winning the World Cup. And so, that was really exciting. And so, I just kinda had all these ambitions and tried lots of different things. And what was cool is my parents - once I committed to something, I definitely had to see through the commitment, see it through the season. But, if my head, desire, kinda burned out, then I was free to go and try something else, and I think that was super important.
It was really good to try so many different things. Some things I was good at, some things I was terrible at. When I was Alpine racing, I had super big goals, but two years in a row, I was the alternate to the junior national team. And so that, that taught me a lot about putting in your best effort and laying it all out there and sometimes not quite getting what you want. And so, taking what you can learn from that and motivate that to make you work harder. Then, I got into running in middle school and I loved how it was just kind of a really pure effort, and I liked the people involved. So, it was pretty much pretty hard on the running track there. And then midway through high school, my, my running coach moved out of town and I needed a new training group.
So, I joined this new ski program and thought it was just gonna be a way to cross train. But, after a couple of weeks I realized that no American woman had ever won an Olympic medal in cross country skiing. It was this open frontier, and every other sport I was doing kind of the history had already been written. So, I got kind of excited about that, and then I also realized that cross country skiing was the combination of what I loved of all these different sports. And so, within a couple of weeks I kind of completely shifted my goals and started thinking about making the 2002 Olympic team, which was just a year after I graduated from high school. And, from there, that led me on a 20 year career as an international cross country skier.
It's pretty amazing and a great message to send to young girls out there that might be feeling pressure to choose one sport or the other that you, you five time Olympic athlete didn't actually choose until around 16. So, that's, that's super impressive, and I would love to hear, what do you think you've gained from playing all those different sports?
I gained so, so many skills, but I think also learned a lot about myself, and probably gained a lot on the mental side as well as the physical side from being all those different things. I think being a soccer player and knowing how to duck and weave through defenders ended up helping me be a better sprint sprinter, in skiing. You know, the running was, again, the kind of the peer effort, you know, learning to take risks on the downhill was really important, and I just, for me it was all about play. Growing up and doing all those different things. You know, sure I wanted to win the soccer game with my team or I wanted to win the race, but ultimately I did all those things cause I loved doing it. I loved the way it made me feel. I love the people I got to do it with. And really, even through high school, it still felt like play, and I think that was super key in helping me.
Then, when I did pick my sport and really started pursuing it full time, I was still fresh. I wasn't burnt out, and that allowed me to last in the sport for, for 20 years. So, I think playing all those sports helped me so much and I really don't think it held me back. I mean, perhaps if I had specialized a couple of years earlier, I might’ve, you know, won a medal at World Juniors or made it to the top a year sooner, but I wouldn't trade that for the fact that I got to be in the sport for so long because it is an incredible lifestyle. And the fact that I got to do it for 20 years, I am, I'm so grateful for that.
It really is amazing. And we all know as athletes, it's not just physical and putting in the time on the court or out in the ski hill, but it's also the mental agility that you need to create for yourself in order to have such a long career like that. So, can you talk to us a little bit about how you would describe your mental challenges that you faced during the various stages of your career and what can these young girls learn from your experience?
Well, it doesn't matter how good you get, how much success you've had, there will always be pressure and nervousness and doubts and all those kinds of thoughts that are really counterproductive to what you ultimately want to do. They'll always be there, but I think I learned over the course of many experiences how to constructively handle those kinds of thoughts and deal with hard times and realize that if something wasn't going the way I wanted right in that moment, I needed to put the work in because tomorrow could be a new day. And, I knew that there was a plan in place and I just needed to keep thinking, being optimistic that, that I was on track.
When I would get intimidated by my competitors, I just had to remember that I had no control over them, that if I did my best, then I would have that satisfaction. And, you never know, I mean, even the most dominating within competitors, sometimes, they have chinks in their armor too. You know, where the weather would be not be ideal or, you know, every time you come up against the challenge, it's a mental exercise and learning to be really flexible, learning to be optimistic, and being able to kind of work your way through it. If I go back and look at every high point in my career, it always came after something really tough. Something where, you know, had I let that challenge beat me down, if I had seen it as impossible, if I'd gotten too frustrated and walked away, I never would have experienced the high.
And so, I think seeing every opportunity as a, as an exercise, knowing you're building, that those mental muscles is important because every experience you go through, even if it's the most devastating loss, you know, or you just completely flop or screw up, you learn something about yourself and it helps you be better in the long run. And, that will end up helping you in all aspects of your life, not just sports, so see it as it is an opportunity. Be curious, be open minded, be optimistic. And, you'd be amazed at how those mental muscles really build up over time.
I love that, and I love that you talk about it as a muscle that you need to train and that you need to practice and that you need to be aware of. So, you've had a lot of practice over your time with all these super high pressure events at the Olympics, the world champs and all that. So, staying on the topic of mental toughness, how do you handle the high pressure situations heading into a race? What advice can you give to all athletes, regardless if they're skier or not, about how to mentally prepare for an event?
Well, you hit the nail on the head right there, and that's preparation because preparation is confidence, and confidence is how you handle pressure. So, the reason why we train so much is to build up our bodies, of course, the physical attributes we need to be competitive. But, it's also putting our body through the motions so that when we get to that big race, competition, game, whatever it is, we don't have to suddenly do something we've never done before. We just have to do what we've been doing; we've been practicing.
And the cool part is, if you follow the plan and you put in the work, that allows you to show up at that start line, or at that whistle, knowing you're ready, and then it's just about going out and doing what you always do. And, just, just, saying like, “I'm going to do the best I can today, and I know if I do that, I will be successful because I've been practicing, I've been putting in the work.”
And so, when I would get into those big competitions, and I would feel those nerves building up and I would look around, of course, my competitors looked incredibly strong, and you know, I knew how challenging the course was going to be. I just reminded myself that I've been putting myself through this constantly and I'm ready.
I've done the work, and so all I have to do, step one, I've got to go out and do my warmup. I've just got to check off those little things that are going to get me ready for my performance. Then, when I get on that start line, I'm just going to go out and do what I know I can do, and it's really about giving yourself these like little cues, these -- you're kind of a little cheerleader for yourself. But, once you're in that race or in that game, that's, you know, that's when it takes over. That's when that hard work takes over.
And so, I think the, what you need to do is really stay focused on the things that you can do, that you can control and really, our minds want to go to all those things we can't, you know; it wants to think about, “What are other people going to think if things go this way or if they go that way?, Well, if I win, I get prize money, or you know, I'll get to go to Disneyland,” or whatever it is. But, all of that stuff -- you can't, you can't necessarily control.
So, it's kind of counterproductive, you know. All the good things will happen if you just do what you've been training to do. And so, that's what I always found is it's just you, you do ultimately have to become a really good cheerleader in your head because as the pressure mounts, the more you have to kind of just remind yourself you've done the work and do that. But, it's amazing how, again, that's a practice thing. So, every time you do it, even now at a, you know -- what seemed like an insignificant practice, or sometimes, getting up early when you don't want to, all those things, that's building that same skill that will help you when the pressure is really there.
And, let's just stay in the head for a few more minutes. So, as a ski racer, I was not at the level you were at, but I did ski race for a little bit, and the power of visualization before an event is so critical. And, I think that from that I learned and took it into soccer. So, I'm curious, after 20 years of ski racing at a really high level, have you experienced the power of visualization? And if so, what can you pass on as tips to how to start practicing that if you haven't started it yet?
Well, it's definitely a really important skill. I think it can be hugely beneficial in a lot of different ways, but it's not easy, because, to be, if you can get really good at it, that's when the real benefit comes. But, it's of course training yourself to stay in the moment, in the attention, and I used a ton of visualization for my career when I was in high school. You know, when I would -- we'd go out and run the course the day before the race. And so, that night I would practice running through the course a few times in my head, and I would kind of imagine it like in the ideal scenario; like, maybe the weather's perfect, maybe I'm feeling great, I'm right where I want to be, but I'd also try to visualize myself doing it and with something happening, maybe I tripped or maybe it was pouring rain.
I think it's really important to take yourself through a few different scenarios. Now, I found when I was doing it for sprint racing and skiing, where you're going up against five other races at the same time, it can be a little bit hard to visualize these because of course you have five other people, you have no idea what they're going to do. So in that case, you kind of just have to visualize, like, you know, how you might react to different situations, how you want to ski the course, and that by going through some of those different scenarios, it kind of helps.
Another area where visualization really helped me was when I was injured because I couldn't be out doing all the workouts I wanted to do, feeling the speed, feeling the power. So, I just worked extra hard, and I would commit to laying down and just spending time, you know, maybe it was only 15 minutes or half an hour, but I would visualize myself doing the training that I was missing out on. And, I really think that benefited, and on days when I couldn't get myself to focus, imagining it in my head, I would watch video. I would watch other people who are really good at the sport, see what they do. And, I think really studying your competitors and studying your role models, can really, can really give you a huge advantage. I would go out then later when I was able to train, and I would try to emulate what I saw in those videos. And I, and I think again, all that is training. You're training your muscles, training your mind, so that when you come to the big competition, it's all there.
I think it is super transferable actually to any sport. So, the power of visualization, the power of putting in the time to do that, and actually it doesn't have to be that much time. It could just be like five minutes or even three minutes, every little bit counts. I'm gonna say, you know, especially, I think right now we're going through kind of a, you know -- it's not, not necessarily a sports situation, but we're going through a time where we can't do all the things we want to do. You know, maybe we're in a situation where we're having to kind of be patient. That's when you can, you can really work on visualization and it doesn't have to be all sports related to, You can use it as a calming thing to get yourself to go to sleep at night; there's a lot of different ways to do it. It’s a great point. It doesn't have to be about sport, and sometimes that can even help you even more.
Let's talk a little bit about the journey. I mean, you had this incredible journey from, you know, all the way of starting sport before you could really walk all the way up to the past five Olympics and a 20 year career. During that time, did you ever consider quitting? A lot of girls, I think, are faced with challenges or they have this thought. I think we all have it at some point. So, I'm curious to know, if you could tell us through your journey, if you ever had that moment, and then how'd you push through.
Yep. Again, that's something I think, no matter how good you get, you're never going to be totally immune to. You know, those little voices, they always want to try to get you. So, when I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I had been a standout runner and a standout skier, so I was fortunate to get some pretty nice offers from NCAA schools, both in running and skiing. But, at that point, the 2002 Olympics were just a year away, and I was excited to try and make the Olympics. So, my initial plan was, I was going to take a year, like kind of like a PG year, I was going to try to make the Olympics, I was going to defer at these different universities that I'd applied to. And then I'd make the Olympic team, and then I’d go back to, then -- I'd pick a school and I’d go do NCAA skiing.
So, my grandfather was like really into sports and really wanted to see all of us succeed. He was on board with that plan. So, I make the Olympic team, and in the process, I kind of start discovering about myself that I really, I'm excited about being one of the best skiers in the world. And while I can tell I finished 44th place in the Olympics, nothing spectacular, I know it's a long, long way to the podium, I just have this desire that I can get there. So, right after the 2002 Olympics, I sit down with my coaches and I said, “Okay, what's it going to take to win an Olympic medal?” And, we kinda map out all the steps we think that I need to hit in the process, and by the time we plan it out, it's going to take 10 years. And at 19 years old, this is really pretty daunting like, “10 years. Are you kidding? Like, that's crazy.”
But, at the same time, like, I'm feeling so motivated and I'm like, “Man, I can see it if I do these things, I can get there.” And I was also like ambitious. I'm like, “It's not going to take 10 years. I'm totally going to get this way faster.” So, I called home and I talked to my grandfather and I'm like, “Hey, I’ve got this plan. I'm going to go after this Olympic medal.” And, he's like, “What?” He's like, “No, you need to go to school. You know, you're getting these free ride scholarships. Like, no American has ever, you know, no American woman has ever medaled. It's impossible. You're, you're being foolish. If you give up this chance to get a free education for skiing.”
Now, thankfully I was going to a small university in Anchorage called Alaska Pacific University, which my ski team happened to be kind of connected with. So, I actually had started taking classes, university classes, and I had a way to continue pursuing my university degree while I was on this 10 year plan, but of course, it was unconventional. So, I'm trying to convince my grandfather this. I start working on this plan. Three years in, I make the world championship team, but I finished dead last in the individual race. In the relay, our team actually gets pulled out of the race halfway through because we're about to be lapped by Norway. And, at the end of that season, the U.S. Ski Team decides to cut the entire women's program and development program.
And so, I am personally seriously doubting now if that ten-year path plan is possible because I just finished dead last in the world championships, the U.S. Ski Team obviously doesn't really believe in the future of the women's team or the younger athletes. And, by this point, all of the kids that I graduated from high school with, are starting, are pretty much ready to graduate and start their careers. I'm making no money, so it was really tempting to say, “Okay, maybe I've screwed up. Maybe I need to completely reroute here, give up on this Olympic dream.”
But, I had this plan, and I kind of had this marker at 2006 I wanted to get, I wanted to try to go to one more Olympics and just measure myself against the best in the world. So no, I got kicked off the ski team, I stayed in Alaska, I kept training, and I was going to give it one more season. I ended up having a huge breakthrough that season. At the Olympics, I ended up finishing ninth, which was the best women's Olympic finish we'd ever had. I ended up getting invited to Ski World Cup after the Olympics -- ended up finishing fifth in World Cup race. And after the end of that season, I got, I made the national team, I started racing world cups, and it occurred to me, how just months before that, I had almost just completely walked away from my dream, completely walked away from a chance to be top 10 in the world at the Olympic games and to kind of hit that next level of performance.
And, so thank goodness I had that plan in place. And then I also had the feeling of like, “Hey, I've, I'm three, I put three years of solid work into this. I, I can't walk away from it. Now. I've got to at least see it through.” And, I think that's been really important, so thank goodness for that. I think that was super huge. I mean, I think after that top 10 at the Olympics, my grandfather was finally like, “Okay, maybe, maybe you're onto something here.” And then, from there, and then I was working on a business degree. I started getting savvy about figuring out how to kind of create some business relationships that allowed me to bring in income to be able to focus on training full time and actually make it a lifestyle. So, it was really cool learning process, but I realized how at that point it would have been so easy to walk away.
Wow. What an incredible story, and I can't help but to think back and say, what about that power of setting goals, and how important was that goal setting? Not to bring it down to something very simple, but it sounds like it was an important piece to you continuing. And so, we talk a lot about the importance of writing things down at VIS. But, reflecting back on it, do you think the fact that you actually wrote that plan, and even though you were three years into it and it wasn't going well, but did the plan really help you? What gave you this desire and confidence to believe you could continue to do it?
Well, the plan was super important because it gave me kind of this layout of where I was trying to get over time. So, of course, there were like benchmarks that I was trying to hit in the immediate term. If I got one, great; that showed I was on track, but if I didn't get one it, it also wasn't the end of the world because it was just a piece of the puzzle. So, if I didn't get that one, it was, it was -- it kinda helped me take the pressure off of having to prove myself every step of the way. And, it gave me some room to experiment with training a little bit to, you know, maybe go through a period where I was training so hard that maybe I was a little flat, but I was putting in the training. And then, when I gave myself, -- either like I got to the point where I really absorbed it or I rested enough to finally absorb it, all of a sudden that was like, that, that next boost. And so, I think having the plan, the long-term plan of what I was working toward motivated me to get out the door every day. But then having kind of that inner, those interim goals, it gave me focus, but also took some of the pressure off. So I think, I think goals are tremendously important.
And, I trained for the New York marathon last year, and I had never run a marathon. I'd done a lot of long training, but I'd never run a marathon. And, I would say through three quarters of the training, I was really doubting, wondering why I signed up for this in the first place, doubting whether or not I’d hit my goal of running under three hours because the training was beating me up and I was not feeling fast and strong. But, I was putting in the work, I was doing the workouts that my coach and I had talked about, and when it came to race day, it all came together, and I felt amazing. I came in five minutes under my goal. And, and it just, I keep having to prove to myself, when you set a goal and you have a plan and you work on it one step at a time, it does work. It gets you there, and it's way better than trying to, trying to tackle those big goals all in one chunk and, and letting yourself live or die by whether you think you're making progress. That's, as we know, progress isn't always easy to measure.
So, I want to pivot a little bit into your training because you've managed to have so long a career and at the highest level. I'd love for you to pass on the tips for your approach to training because I think it sort of dives back into this idea of setting up a plan. So, talk to us a little bit about, how do you successfully train for your sport?
Well, I think the fun part about sport is there is no exact recipe. There is no, “Okay, if you do this, this, and this, you will be an Olympic champion.” You have to, you have to be creative, you have to experiment, and you have to, you have to put in the work over time. And ultimately, you give it your best and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I think what was so helpful in my training was to sit down at the beginning of each kind of season or year, with my coach and really say, “Okay, what are, what are, what are the goals that I was coming up with that I wanted to achieve this season?”
And a lot of them had to do with, you know, the big races, like a world championship or world cup or something. And then, from each of those goals I would figure out like, “What are my strengths that'll help me get that goal and maybe what are some of my weaknesses getting in the way?” And then, I would take each of those strengths and weaknesses, and I would make up a couple of strategies for how is either going to enhance a strength or work on a weakness so that we've built it back to the point where like, I had these really clear focuses for each period of my training.
And, we would do training kind of in these four week blocks, so each four weeks I kind of knew what I was working on. And then what was great is after the end of the four weeks, I could sit down with my coach again, and I could look back and see what I did. And I could say, “Okay, did it work? Should we tweak things a little bit? Okay, maybe that didn't work at all; let's completely go a different direction.” And you know, maybe I wanted to work on one skill for one training block, and then made good, made some good progress. And the next training block, I would shift focus a little bit so that I wasn't trying to get better at everything all at once. I could be very strategic about it and, and to measure it, and therefore you can really enhance things.
So that, so that was really good. And, it was always amazing to me how I'd set those goals, beginning of May. And then they're kind of -- I would be subtly working on them without realizing it through the whole training period. And, then we would get to the world championships or whatever, and I would achieve my goal because I had, I had thought about all the things I needed to do to be ready for it. I had one season where I set some pretty ambitious goals to the point where my coach told me later he was, he was happy to see me be so ambitious, but he was really concerned that they were a little too ambitious, but he decided to back me in that way so we wouldn't get rid of him.
I ended up achieving those goals, and I think part of it was because we wrote it down. We wrote it down. We thought about what, what was going to be the roadmap of how we're going to get there. And then, we just went on with the work of executing it, and it was so cool to get to the end of the season and look back at my log and go “Check, check, check, check,” of these goals that were just insanely ambitious.
That’s super cool!
So I, yeah, I mean, we hear it so much, you start to kinda almost forget how important it is, but writing those things down about where you want to go and what you want to do, is, is really important. And, equally for keeping you on track and keeping you motivated, I also hope you remember that it's important to really celebrate those little, those little milestones, the progress, because I really felt like seeing those little progresses help, help keep me going. you know, if I didn't see it for a while and motivated me to want to get something, You know, if I did -- I also got really creative at how to find success, sometimes in places where you're not always used to seeing it. You know, maybe it didn't win the race, but maybe I was closer to the leader than I had ever been, or I got better points or where I realized there was a point in the race when I was under such sheer physical agony that I was ready to give up, but I pushed over to the hill and I ended up speeding up. And you know, like, just those little personal victories, I think were really important along the way. So, that, that was always really important in my training.
And then the other pieces is just, is being creative. We, for a while with our strength training, were really trying to like make our ski muscles stronger, those muscles that we really, you know, define that were important. But, we were hitting those same muscles so often that it was kind of flattening this out. And so, I switched my training to get more of an all around. I actually got into powerlifting, which is not something a cross country skier would normally do, but that ended up really improving my just overall balance in my body, and it actually helped me really improve as a skier. And so, looking to other sports sometimes, being creative can be really good.
I love the idea that maybe after your ski career, we might see Kikkan Randall as a powerlifter on ESPN.
Yeah, I don't know about that. I have great respect for those, those athletes. But, I love, I love being in the gym. I love feeling strong. So yeah, that helped me in my sport, but it carries through today; now that I'm not competing professionally anymore, I still love to go and get a good weight workout in. And because of those skills that I've developed, I've got a gym that I've built here at home. You know, it's nothing fancy, but I, you know, during this COVID time, I've been able to work at home a couple days a week and still keep that spring.
I really love what you said about making those short interim goals like in four weeks and then celebrating them because for those of us that are impatient and have these really big ambitions, it helps you feel good along the way.
So, we know that that hard physical training and progress is so important, but it's so important to what you put in your body. So, can you tell us a little bit about what you've learned about nutrition along your journey and the importance of it to becoming a world class athlete?
So, I'll be the first to admit my nutrition has not been perfect. In high school, I was definitely benefiting from a high level of activity and burning a lot of calories cause what I was eating was probably not the best. So, my high school running coach had us submit a food log. And, at that time, I was eating Lucky Charms for breakfast, and he kindly educated me on the fact that Lucky Charms were not going to be the optimal fuel to be getting the most out of my workouts. So, kind of starting from that experience on, I actually got really interested in nutrition as a means to an end. Like, you know, if, if I was going to reach these big goals and train a lot and compete, I needed to fuel my body properly. And so, finding ways to make what I love to eat -- and I do love to eat -- but making it the best it could be, and, and seeing it as kind of a fun game. So, I also liked to use food as reward; donuts are totally my kryptonite. You can get me to produce pretty much anything for a donut, but I would use those as like incentives to get through like a super long three hour run or beat my time in an interval session from the week before. And so, when I would get to it and have that reward, it was literally so much sweeter because I had earned it, and I didn't just let myself have it all the time. It was something that was kind of part of the plan, and I really enjoyed it.
And so, being an athlete has been awesome because, because you are so active because you train so much, you get to eat a lot and you get to have fun with it, and there's a lot of amazing things you can eat. And so, I've just really tried to have kind of a healthy relationship with it and see it as a part of achieving my goals. And now that I'm a mom, you know, my new challenge is figuring out how do I pass it along to my son and how do I kind of fuel all the things that he wants to do in a way that he likes and enjoys, so that he has a healthy relationship with food as well?
I think you framed it up nicely. Making sure you have a healthy relationship with food is part of the success. Everybody's body is different. Everybody needs to fuel their body differently. And so, learning what it is that your body needs to perform at its best is really important.
Talk to us a little bit about what you have seen within your sport and your own experiences of body image and nutrition and all that coming together for female athletes because it can be really challenging. And, we know that a lot of girls in college, when they reach that next level and they're in a new environment, the food part can be really challenging. So, I would love to know, just like what advice, you know, you would tell those girls that might be struggling with all of that right now.
Well, there's no doubt it's challenging. And I mean, I would say it's taken me my entire career as a professional athlete to, to get a good handle on it. And then, I retired and all of a sudden, I wasn't training four hours a day, and I almost had to relearn a little bit about striking the balance. I think the biggest thing comes down to kind of education, like learning a lot about what, what you're actually eating, and when, and why, and how that corresponds to what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve. And I, I think it's really easy when you get into a new environment and, you know, it's maybe different food than you're used to and your, your daily routine is changing and everything, and there's people around, and there’s fun, and there's freedom, you want to enjoy that.
But you just... there, there are so many great resources now that can help you kind of to learn about it. And in cross country skiing, we're a sport that is very much based on a strength to weight ratio. So, you know, in some ways the leaner and lighter you are, the less you have to carry up hills. But, we are also quite a powerful sport, and so, what we found is that I've seen some teammates go along the route where they're just, they're micromanaging so much that they, they get so lean that they lose their ability to be powerful. And, they would see this short term gain where there they would see a huge increase in performance because they're lighter and there's zipping up these hills. But, the body can't sustain that for the load we're putting it under.
And so, these athletes would then, after that brief high point, would kind of come crashing down. They couldn't stay healthy, whether it's, you know, feuding constant colds and flus or getting stress fractures and injuries because their body just doesn't have the energy to repair. And I saw, you know, a really close friend and teammate of mine really spin into a tough time for a couple years after, you know, just not fueling well enough.
And so, for me as an athlete, I've always decided that, to me, my health and my long-term health was way more important than any trophy or when I could ever have. And so, I was, you know, gonna be competitive and try to find what that ideal spot was for me, but I'd rather always be just a little bit over the limit, then a little bit under the limit. And, and I think that served me really well because it's amazing your body will find kind of that ideal spot. but you, you've got to have the energy to recover. You've got to have the energy to stay healthy, and, and it really does affect the rest of your life. So, I think if you can just educate yourself and be smart, you know, if you're having a hard time figuring it out, don't be afraid to reach out to people around you.
It was something that we ended up talking about as a team, because we knew that if, if someone on our team was starting to head the wrong direction, and they were speaking, eating competitive within the team, that was going to be counterproductive with the goals we were trying to get. So, we just always tried to be really good about talking about why we were eating what we were eating. You know, is everyone getting, fueling enough and encouraging each other, so that we could all kind of lift up. And, and we certainly had some, some issues crop up here and there, but I think we were able to, to catch them ahead of the time by kind of taking it on as a group.
Yeah. I think it's so important to talk about these things and that's why we're doing the Voice In Sport podcast, is to talk about it because these are, these are, you know, things that happen in almost every single female athlete’s journey in sport. And so, the more we can share our stories and how we work through them, the better we're all going to be. So, I think what you said is really important, Kikkan, and the idea of under-serving your body or under-fueling your body is going to under-serve your sport; It's also going to under-serve the longevity that you have in your sport. So, all really good lessons that you've passed on and we really do appreciate it.
With that, let's do, let's move into our, like, fire round of our last three questions. The Voice In Sport podcast is all about untold stories. What would be an untold story that you can share with other female athletes about your journey in sport? And it can be small, big, doesn't have to be anything major; it could be something fun too.
Well, not many people know that I ride a unicycle. I picked it up in the summer before sixth grade. I was on the Alpine ski team and a couple of my guy teammates, I was, I was hanging out with them at the house one day, and we found this old unicycle in one of the kid’s garages, and we started trying it out. And of course, my friend got, got the hang of it right away. He could just ride along, and he was whistling and doing all these laps, and I would get on, and I would make it a crank or two, and I'd fall off. And, you know, when he got it, it was frustrating to see him get it so easy.
And I was out there all day; in fact, I think my friend even like went in and had lunch, and I kept doing it and it was like, “On and fall off, on and fall off on and fall off.” And, it took me all day, but at the end of the day, it was literally like the last 10 minutes I was out there, I think I've made it like 50 feet. So, I, you know, I started to get the hang of it. And then, the next day that, you know, that encouraged me. So, I came back and I worked on it again all day. And, by that point, I could ride like down to the end of the block or something back before falling off. And so, I ended up picking up how to ride a unicycle. And, and it's been kind of this like fun, little skill to have, ever since.
That's amazing. Okay. You're, you're going to either be the next unicycle champion or weightlifting champion! So, you talked a little bit about the importance of sport and what it means to you as a person. So, we believe the same thing at Voice In Sport: the more you stay in sport, the more superpower you gain. So, what superpower do you gain from sport and how are you going to use it to drive positive change outside of sport?
I think sport has just taught me the value of optimism, of looking forward, of, you know, kind of putting, -- you literally put one step in front of the other, and pretty soon you're jogging, and then you're running and then you're sprinting, and you're feeling amazing and you get to where you want to go. I think my superpower is optimism.
Okay. So, what are three words that you would use to describe your journey in sport as a female athlete?
Strong, patient, fun.
Since we are here to serve young female athletes, what's one single piece of advice that you would like to share to all female athletes out there today?
I mean, I think it's, it's just: don't be afraid to dream big because you would be amazed at how putting things together, one step at a time, will ultimately, -- it'll get you to those goals. And, it is so amazing to go through that process to challenge yourself. So, I definitely encourage you to think about where you want to go, how you're going to get there, and then get excited about heading on the journey to do it. And, I'm going to cheat and throw in one other little thing, and that is: create a great team to do it with you, because there are so many instances in my career where I could have gone at it alone. Maybe, it would have been easier, but I chose to do it with the team and to help cultivate a team, and that ultimately was my, my favorite part of the whole journey.
It's so important. I mean, I think part of the amazing thing about sports is being part of a team and seeing others succeed as well. So, we know that's been a big part of your journey and your success, so thank you for joining us, Kikkan. It's been a pleasure and you're an inspiration to everybody.
Well, I'm just happy to be part of the family, so thanks for having me.
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Thank you, Kikkan, for inspiring us all to try so many sports, dream big, seek out new frontiers and teaching us how to approach setting goals to get there. Keegan created a 10 year plan and never gave up along the way, and she was creative, finding ways to celebrate the small victories and create great teams around her.
Head to kikkan.com and check out the amazing things Kikkan is involved with, including our non-profit organization called Fast and Female, which supports young girls ages 8 through 14 encouraging them to stay in sport and stay active. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok @voiceinsport and if you are interested in advocating for female athletes, check out voiceinsport.com and voiceinsporfoundation.org.
Host: Stef Strack
Producer: Stef Strack