Kikkan Randall: Beyond Olympic Gold. Interview and story by Rebecca Davis
Kikkan Randall: Beyond Olympic Gold
By Rebecca Davis
Editor’s Note: When word got out that Kikkan Randall would be holding a meet-and-greet at the Flat Creek Eatery in Hayward, WI, the morning of the Korte, Rebecca Davis answered the call for Silent Sports Magazine. A champion paddler and accomplished skier herself, Rebecca had a series of down-to-earth communications with Kikkan, revealing much more about the heart of this Olympic Gold champion.
Kikkan Randall is known for her tenacity as a five-time Olympian and, with teammate Jessie Diggins, the first-ever USA Gold Medalist in cross-country skiing. She’s also a breast cancer survivor and co-founder of the girls’ empowerment organization Fast and Female. She is no stranger to adversity—throughout her career as an athlete, her battle with cancer, and even in adapting to motherhood, she has displayed a determined spirit and the ability to overcome. In doing so, Kikkan has inspired dreams of countless athletes, brought hope to her community, set an example of strength, and has shown herself as a leader, all while keeping a light heart and contagious enthusiasm for life. In these times of uncertainty, we can look to her example to shed light on the way forward and emerge stronger.
I had the opportunity to interview Kikkan, through Skype conversations and emails. She was warm and accommodating. Here is what she had to say beyond the Gold Olympic Medal.
Follow Your Dreams
After winning the Freestyle Team Sprint Olympic Gold Medal in 2018, and enduring treatment for breast cancer shortly after, Kikkan has found many parallels between the two.
“It’s actually amazing how many similarities there are between what helped me be a successful athlete and team builder, and what helped me get through breast cancer,” she said.
“The first step is to not be shy about what you want to accomplish or who you want to become. Dream about something you want without limitation. If it’s something that really sticks with you, create a clear vision of what success looks like.” She explains, “As a teenager, I dreamt of being an Olympic medalist in cross country skiing, even though no American woman had ever been close. To me, the idea of standing on top of the podium was going to be worth the work it would take to get there.”
She displayed a confidence in her ability, and banished self-doubt.
“Going through my cancer treatment, I thought often about the life and the activities that I wanted to get back to doing after my treatment was finished. I visualized the future I wanted and didn’t let my current reality limit my vision.”
Make a Plan
After Identifying a dream, Kikkan would work backwards to get to where she wanted to go, creating a roadmap to success.
“Make several checkpoints to measure your progress,” she said, “and then create small strategies to reach each step. Keep working back until you have something to challenge yourself with each day. Your goals should be challenging but achievable. It’s the small successes that will build your confidence and motivation as you tackle bigger and bigger steps.”
She successfully executed this strategy to earn her historic Olympic Gold Medal in 2018, a vision a roadmap that was created after the Olympic Games in 2002. At the time, Kikkan said her best finish was 44th place. She sat down with her coaches and mapped out the steps to put her in position for an Olympic medal. After all the work was done, they had put together a 10-year plan.
“While it was a daunting amount of time, I had a road map that showed it was possible one step at a time.”
Once a plan was in place, Kikkan approached each day individually, focusing on what could be done now.
“Going through my cancer treatment,” she said, “I looked at my treatment plan as a series of steps. Each step was necessary to get healthy again, and each day that I got through treatment I marked an ‘X’ on the calendar. Taking it one day at a time, one cycle at a time, made it feel less daunting.”
Build a Team
After Kikkan received her cancer diagnosis, she found herself tempted to keep to herself, feeling that she had to fight this battle on her own.
“I quickly realized that being open and not afraid to rely on others to help me was going to be a much smarter and more productive way to approach my treatment. I was absolutely blown away by the support I received and how much it meant to me in the most challenging time of my life.”
When Kikkan recalls her early days of World Cup skiing, she was the only woman on the team, and it would have been easier to stick to her own plan. However, the benefits of building a team made it worth the work—improved performance, growth in the sport, and making it fun more than outweighed the discomfort of asking for help.
“Asking coaches for feedback and looking for experts in all aspects of sport was intimidating at times, but I knew I needed to improve every part of my approach.”
Kikkan found that, even with a plan in place, unexpected challenges would occur. She was able to frame these obstacles as opportunities.
“There will invariably be roadblocks, setbacks, doubt, and fear. But recognize that these challenges can be catalysts for change and finding new strengths. Keep an open mind, be creative, and use that vision of what you want to stay focused on what you can do!”
Kikkan realized that making an adjustment would sometimes be pivotal to a breakthrough.
“In my ski career, all of my biggest triumphs came after overcoming something really tough. After injuries, I recorded some of my best-ever performances. After becoming a mom, I won an Olympic Gold Medal. Being faced with a challenge helped me develop new strengths and redefine my focus.” She added, “[When] going through cancer treatment, there is so much you can’t control, so choosing to focus on what you can control and what you can do helped me stay positive, optimistic, and gave me something to focus on to pass the time.”
Even in the transition from professional athlete to the next phase of her career, making changes is still a huge part of Kikkan’s success. “Balancing family, career, travel, and sleep can be challenging. Sometimes something has to give. Turns out there are lots of ways to get in a good workout. It goes back to mindset and the willingness to be creative!”
Kikkan has found that staying active is essential for both physical and mental well-being, especially during her cancer treatment.
“I made a promise to myself that I would always try to move for at least 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes I felt terrible, then I honored that as a sign to rest. Most often, just getting out for 10 minutes got me out there and, once I started moving, I felt better. I really noticed how even just a little bit of movement every day helped me stay positive and optimistic. The movement was as important for my mind as my body.”
She adapted this strategy from the hardest times on the World Cup.
“During my ski career, as I faced an injury or illness, I often had to alter my training plan. But I found just moving a little bit, like slow walks in the midst of a bad cold, or finding an alternative way to train, kept my body functioning and recovering more than if I’d just stayed on the couch.”
As a mother, Kikkan keeps staying active, fostering a positive attitude, which are things she is excited to pass down to the next generation.
“I think the most important part of getting out with your family is attitude. When you bring the kids along, it can require a little more time, preparation, patience, and gear, but it’s always worth it. I find not having too much expectation for exactly how I want it to go really helps. Also, letting your passion and excitement shine through helps pass that attitude on to your kids. Making it fun, being flexible, and staying open-minded is important.”
Keep Moving Forward
“Find something bright and colorful that reminds you that the future is bright,” she said. Always choose hope over fear and doubt. There is no good reason to believe that you can’t have the future you want. It’s going to be okay!”
In honor of Kikkan and her achievements, and to support her partnering organization, AKTIV Against Cancer, https://www.kikkan.com/about/cancer-fighter/, as well as Fast and Female, Empowering Women Through Sport at www.fastandfemale.com.
Kikkan Randall: President of Fast and Female, USA. Please tour the website, and consider making a donation to a great cause.
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