May 23, 2022 6:25 AM EDT

It’s hard for athletes—particularly Olympic athletes—to transcend their sport. Eileen Gu is an exception to that rule. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody more disciplined, driven, or determined than Eileen. And hard work pays off.

The summer before the Beijing Olympics, Eileen reached out to me for advice. She was struggling with the pressure of the buildup to the Games and grappling with her newfound fame. But mostly she was just trying to maintain friendships with the girls she grew up with. It’s easy to forget that despite winning three Olympic medals, gracing the covers of countless magazines, and fronting global campaigns for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co, she’s still just a normal teenager who loves to ski and is excited for college—but doesn’t want to lose touch with her childhood friends. That heart is what makes her so special.

Carolyn Fong for TIME

In the months since that conversation, she’s proven herself to be one of the greatest female freeskiers of all time, amassed an online follower count in the millions, and inspired a new generation of girls—especially Chinese and Chinese American girls—to venture into the male-dominated world of action sports. Eileen has done all of that with grace, poise, and thoughtfulness rarely found in someone her age.

Kenworthy is an actor and an Olympic silver medalist in slopestyle skiing

Correction, May 24.

The original version of this story misstated the brands that Eileen Gu represented in global campaigns. They are Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., not Fendi and Gucci.

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