When I think back to my journey from a wide-eyed 9-year-old girl to an Olympic champion, I’m reminded of the incredible impact that a mere 90 seconds can have on a person’s life. It’s a story that began in a ski shop in Minnesota, where I met my childhood idol, Olympian Picabo Street—an encounter that would shape my life and inspire me to work to empower the next generation of young women.
I can still vividly recall that day. The anticipation hung in the air as I waited in line for hours, clutching a poster of my ultimate hero. To me, Picabo Street was a superhero who had stepped right out of the pages of a comic book and into my reality. As I inched closer to the front of the line, my heart raced with excitement.
When I finally stood before her, I was met with a radiant smile, genuine engagement, and everything I had ever hoped for. She looked me in the eye and told me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. In that moment, she became more than just a distant idol; she became a guiding light, illuminating the path to my dreams. In 90 seconds, Picabo showed me what I could become, and that brief encounter ignited a fire within me that led me on a path to where I am today.
My ski racing career was a rollercoaster of triumphs and challenges, from World Cup victories to debilitating injuries. In 2014, I faced one of the most difficult moments of my life when I had to miss the Sochi Olympics due to an injury. It was during this period of reflection that I realized I wanted to do something positive with my time, to make a difference beyond the race course. I thought back to how just 90 seconds of encouraging words from someone I looked up to ignited my drive to succeed. If I was inspired by such a brief encounter when I was growing up, what could I achieve if I spent more time with young girls, providing them with the resources and self-confidence they needed to take on any challenges they might face in life?
This question led to the creation of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation that same year. Its mission was clear: to empower and inspire young girls through scholarships, camps, and mentorship. I wanted to give girls the tools to feel as confident on a soccer pitch as they would someday feel interviewing for a job or entering a boardroom. I wanted these young girls to realize they have limitless potential.
A key part of that has been sharing the story of how I met Picabo. In my empowerment camps, which host around 200 girls, my goal is to not only pass on the inspiration I was once given, but also to help each girl discover her own 90 seconds—those pivotal moments that can change their lives and, in turn, put them in the position to inspire the next generation.
This exercise is a reminder that each of us has the power to uplift others in our own unique way. In a world where women sometimes hesitate to support other women for fear that it will diminish their own accomplishments, I am committed to instilling in these girls the belief that helping one another only amplifies our collective potential. Those 90 seconds can be a beacon of hope, a catalyst for change, and a source of empowerment.
At a recent camp, I met a 12-year-old girl in Baltimore who’d been through the unthinkable: losing her mother during her birth. She was being raised by her grandparents and aspired to become a gymnast, but wasn’t sure she could do it. The crucial element was hearing that someone else believed in her; she simply needed that positive affirmation, and it completely transformed her perception of what was achievable. Another young girl I met this year had a desire to go out for local volleyball team, but someone told her she might not be good enough. However, with a bit of encouragement, she came to realize that only she can judge her own capabilities and committed to trying out.
Many of the kids I encounter through my foundation have been told “no.” They’ve been told they aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or wealthy enough. It’s our duty to tell them “yes”—that they are enough—and to share our knowledge with them.
I encourage you to find the small moments where you can make a difference and help build a young person’s confidence. Together, we can create a world where fearlessness knows no bounds, where children believe in themselves, where they can defy expectations, and where they can achieve greatness. Sometimes it only takes 90 seconds to inspire, and I firmly believe that by remaining open-hearted and generous, we can empower the next generation and work toward a brighter future for all.
Vonn is one of the most decorated alpine ski racers in U.S. history. She is a member of the 2013 TIME100.
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