Life Lessons from Mikaela Shiffrin: What a Real Winner Looks Like

Posted on March 25, 2013 by

Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals

Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals

See that boy in the red sweatshirt? That’s my son. And the girl handing him the paper? That’s Mikaela Shiffrin, the World Cup champion slalom ski racer. She’s smiling, but she just lost a ski race. My son waited and watched her with careful concentration as she made her way down the ski course. She’s not hard to miss, really. We just had to follow the little girls, tv cameras and reporters that trailed her every move.

She was full of grace, really – on and off the slalom course. This year, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin won the World Cup in slalom. That’s a huge accomplishment for anyone, let alone a teenager. She’s only five years older than my son.

As soon as she crossed the finish at the U.S. National Championship races at Squaw Valley last weekend, she skied into the open arms of her fans, mostly young kids. The budding races were eager to meet her, pose for a quick photo or have her autograph something-anything, really. Helmets, speed suits, arms, sweatshirts and scraps of paper were quickly scribbled on, and then Mikaela flashed a huge smile for  the best moment any young racer could hope for. She’s quite cool for 18. Barely bigger than they are, she’s small for a female ski racer-but mighty.

Ski racing is a sport against the clock. Hundredths of seconds can separate the winners from the losers. The sharper the ski edges, the wax on the skis, the split second decisions as the racers run down the course can change a first place run to last place. Intense pressure, to be sure. Mental and physical toughness are essential. Hours and hours of training result in one sixty-second run. And one guarantee: everyone falls. Including Mikaela.

In first place after the first run, she was poised to win. But that didn’t happen. In front of a crowd of thousands, she straddled a gate instead of skiing around it, and her race was over.

C and Mikaela Shiffrin

And still, she smiled. She skied into the finish area to once again sign autographs and pose with her fans. All the racers knew how she felt, the disappointment of going from first to last in one split second. All the race moms wanted to give her a hug.

And still, she smiled. TV cameras waved in her face, and she smiled.

“I think it’s most important that I just try to connect with the younger kids here. Most of them say they watch the World Cup races so I think they’ve seen the skiing and it’s probably cool to see it live. But I think the most important thing is that I get to have some time face-to-face with them and show them I’m not actually that different and that I’m a goofball. We can have conversations and they can get to this point,” she said.

She’s right. The fans didn’t care  that she didn’t finish. This crowd of kids-including my son-know that she’s a real racer. She’s just like them. She’s not perfect. She falls, gets up, and does it again. Over and over. She knows there’s another race, another victory, and likely another defeat, too.

He’s still watching her, carefully. It doesn’t matter that the scoreboard shows her in last place. We can all clearly see what a winner looks like.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Comments: 6

  • Mikaela Shiffrin: An Original - mamawolfe

    February 22, 2014

    […] written before about how impressed I am with Mikaela Shiffrin; when my son and I met her last year at Squaw Valley, she couldn’t have been more humble, […]

  • Google

    April 9, 2013


    Sites of interest we have a link to…

  • Marco Rocks

    March 29, 2013

    […] Life Lessons from Mikaela Shiffrin: What a Real Winner Looks Like […]

  • Chris Roffe

    March 27, 2013


    Great blog post, thank you for sharing it with us!

    The mindset and drive it takes to DNF/DSQ one day, then get up and put two runs together the next day and finish translates well into the entrepreneurial mindset needed to succeed in business today.

    Being a ski racer is one of the best developmental experiences children can have, not that I’m biased in anyway though…

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      March 27, 2013

      Hi Chris, I’m so glad that you liked the blog post about Mikaela. I’d never thought about the life long skills our kids are learning in ski racing in terms of success in business, but now that you brought it up I completely agree. My kids have been racing most of their young lives, and I think the confidence and determination they’ve learned are invaluable. Thank you very much for writing today! -Jennifer

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