Catching up with 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Hilary Lindh
Three-time Olympic alpine skier Hilary Lindh of Juneau recently left her hometown and moved to Whitefish, Montana, where she accepted a job as an environmental specialist with a civil engineering firm.
She left behind some of her things in storage, even a piece of her heart.
“It will always be my home no matter where I’m living,” she told me.
And no matter what, Lindh will always be remembered as one of Alaska’s greatest athletes.
The 2009 Alaska Sports Hall of Fame inductee enjoyed a remarkable career with the U.S. Ski Team that spanned from 1986 to 1997 and included national championships, Olympic medals and world titles.
“What kept me going was wanting to be my best and to feel satisfied that I had given and done everything within my power to be my best,” she said. “Towards the end, I was just ready to apply myself to something else.”
Lindh doesn’t keep her medals on display, keeping them stored away.
However, it doesn’t mean she wants to forget her past accomplishments.
“I am proud of my career but it seems like so long ago,” Lindh said. “The medals and wins stand out, but also the times when I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall and making no progress.
“There were a lot of challenges – but to learn from, not forget.”
Lindh, 47, loved the downhill and dominated skiing’s glamour event for the U.S. Ski Team as well as other disciplines such as the slalom and super-G.
As a kid, her time was spent on the slopes of Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau as her dedication to be a ski racer trumped everything else.
As a teenager, her passion turned to obsession and she moved away from home to attend a ski academy in Utah.
“There’s nothing I would rather have been doing,” she said.
At 14, she joined the U.S. Ski Team.
A year later, she made her World Cup debut.
By 16, she made history as the first American to win the downhill at the World Junior Championships.
“It was an awesome way to grow up and learn about myself and the world,” Lindh said. “I don’t think I missed out on anything, really. I had no interest in being a regular kid.”
By the 1990s she was our country’s best hope for a medal at international competition in the downhill.
Her greatest hits include gold at the 1997 World Championships, silver at the 1992 Olympics and bronze at the 1996 World Championships.
“I wish I could have learned the importance of perspective earlier,” Lindh said. “It seems like it took me a long time to get from being junior world and national champion to start winning World Cups and World Championships.”
Looking back, Lindh wishes she would have enjoyed the process more than focusing so much on the end result.
At the same time, though, letting off the gas pedal could have altered her path as a champion.
Besides, she said, she wouldn’t have listened anyway.
“Maybe I could have sought help or guidance from others, but I didn’t know that at the time,” she said. “I’m not sure how I could have done it differently since I had to learn it on my own.”
At 27, Lindh walked away from the sport at the top of her game. She won gold in each of her final two races at the national championships, just one year before an Olympic year.
She still doesn’t regret retiring in her prime, but she did dream about it for many years after she stopped racing. One dream was actually kind of a nightmare as it featured her showing up to race with no preparation.
“Kind of like a college kid who dreams about going into final exams not having studied,” she said. “I dreamed about showing up to races, not being able to inspect the course and having to race.”
Today, she encourages others to dream as a ski coach for the Whitefish Mountain Resort race team.
“I still love to ski,” Lindh said. “It’s a sport I grew up with, where people of all ages are out there with you. It’s a social thing, the ski community and a way of life. I hope I’m able to continue skiing a lot my whole life and I hope my daughter feels the same way when she’s an adult. I definitely would not have competed so long if I didn’t love it.”