Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Word of the Street

Olympic champion Picabo Street may exude fearlessness.

After all, she built her successful downhill ski career by careening as fast as possible down the slopes.

During yesterday's special appearance at the suburban Atlanta corporate office for U.S. Olympic partner Citi, Street did talk about fear and how she tackles it through lessons learned from family, friends and coaches.

"Replace your fears with the task at hand," said Street.

The three-time Olympian said pausing to assess one's frightening situation only makes it more difficult, likened to standing on a high-dive -- the longer one waits or taking time to look down, the harder it gets to just take the plunge.

Street is heading to Sochi with Citi as an ambassador in the company's five-ringed Every Step of the Way initiative through which Olympic fans may help channel donated funds to one of 10 designated Team USA affiliate nonprofits. With just a few clicks online, anyone may elect to support Street's charity of choice, ski and snowboard safety organization Stay On the Slopes. (Disclosure: The P.R. firm for Citi Every Step, MATTER, is an agency for which I will freelance in Sochi.)

Does Street have fear about heading to Russia? Probably yes.

"[Please] pray for us all, for our safety," Street said to about 100 Citi employees in attendance.

To overcome her apparent concerns about personal security in Sochi, Street's selected tasks at hand include her Citi project and an on-air gig with Michelle Kwan as the duo will appear as Fox Sports One correspondents. With a smile and nervous chuckle, Street mentioned the network's plans to activate the pair of Olympians as hard news anchors if the need arises.

But the prospect of frightening Sochi scenarios was only a brief portion of Street's 45 minute, mostly unscripted, very animated and often hilarious chat with Citi team members. Observing Picabo's great storytelling techniques and "keeping it real" demeanor reminded me of great scenes portrayed by Melissa McCarthy.
 
With one of her sons joining the event for "mom's take the kids to work day" Street shared many stories of her own upbringing as a tomboy coming of age in Idaho.

Street explained that some of her earliest memories of skiing went back to a day when her older brother and father left her home to hit the slopes. Upon their return, Street made a strong case for future inclusion, donning her brother's oversized-for-Picabo boots and other gear.

When she finally did get to join the family ski experience, she was all about getting to the bottom of the hill with haste.

Street said she was more afraid of getting pushed off the chair lift than speeding down the mountainside with as few turns as possible.

"I tried turning but it only slowed me down," Street said.

At age 10, Street started telling family and friends of her Olympic aspirations. After many unheeded conversations, her dad finally turned the tables on the young female skier.

"He said, 'O.K., we're going to put all of the family apples into [Picabo's Olympic dream] basket, so it might get heavy -- don't drop it!'" said Street.

No pressure!

Of her many years among the world's best skiers, Street cited a point of pride was rallying her U.S. teammates to dominate. She also cherishes the friendships made with Team USA and European peers.

On those who inspired her most, Street said fellow Lillehammer '94 Olympian Dan Jansen was the biggest impact and that he "epitomized perseverance."

Perseverance came into play when Street later crashed, breaking both the biggest and smallest bones in her body, her jaw and many other body parts. When I asked her one-on-one how she tackled the frustration of being cooped up for a long recovery, Street was frank about the wrath the experience brought her.

"I was angry!" she said. "I was angry and everyone knew it."

She said she channeled that anger into finding other ways to keep her body in shape for an eventual return to the slopes. Street added that being holed up in the hospital made her achingly anxious to pounce.

"It was like being a hungry tiger pacing back and forth in a cage," Street said. "It's like [a tiger who] can smell blood outside and wants to, can't hardly wait, to attack!"

She said she thinks Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn may be in this place mentally during her own recovery from injury.

When a Citi audience member inquired about getting from greatness level to Olympian level technique in sport and in life, Street said she learned to put the lion's share of focus on improving weakness, and that hard work will help overcome flaws while naturally refining one's areas of strength. She said 2014 Team USA members Mikaela Shiffrin and Patrick Meek each remind her of Street's own drive, speed and hard work.

"All choices have consequences," said Street. "My wish [to get to the Olympics] became a daily choice. It was my wish on everything: birthdays, on the clock at 11:11, anything.

"I used to write the Olympic rings in the frost of the windows on the bus," Street added.

Funny, I used to do that on the bus in Oklahoma. And on the windows of my Volvo last week during Indiana's blizzard.

Further keeping it real, Street said during her Sochi TV project she will make it a point to ask Olympians and celebrities to talk about their "crappiest job" for which Street has her worst: Cleaning toilets. As a youth, Street used to help her mom with house cleaning assignments, perhaps another motivator to hit the slopes with dad and brother.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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