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SI FOR KIDS
Haven't we been down this Street before?
Posted: Wed March 18, 1998
Perhaps it helps Picabo Street that she believes in reincarnation, for what has happened to her in the past 15 months is the sort of stuff that can hardly be jammed into one life.
Really now, can you think of any athlete who has, so quickly, gone back and forth to such extremes as Picabo has? Starting last winter's skiing season, she was the favorite to dominate the downhillthe competition she'd won a silver medal in at the last Olympics. But then, hurtling down a mountain at 95 miles per hour, she fell, tearing the ACL in her right leg. Hardly anyone expected her to make the Olympics, yet she came backthough skiing with too much caution in the downhill to even threaten for a medal. Only, incredibly, she had already won the gold in her backup event, the Super G. Her popularity soared. Picabo, not Tara Lipinsky, became America's sweetheart. And then, the other day, another awful fall, another disaster: a broken femur in her left leg.
Maybe, the people close to her tell me, maybe now Picabo understands it is time for Picabo to give up the ghost and be Elizabeth more.
Elizabeth, you see, is the name Picabo gives herself when she thinks it's time for her to be normaland not to be someone named Picabo. As it is, Picabo tells me, she is usually Elizabeth only a couple days each month.
However, she also explains that in past centuries she's been an Indian woman, then an Englishwoman who played polo. In her most recent previous life, Picabo was Amelia Earhart's best friend.
So you see, Picabo has been around, always, which is why I'm not so sure she needs to ski to get places anymore.
The fact is, of course, that few athletes are ever prepared to hang it up, but Picabo at least had time to ponder the imminent end of her career last year, when she was unsure that she'd even be able to make it to Nagano. "It gave me an opportunity to ask who was I going to be," she told me. "It made me understand that it does have to end sometime, and this thing I spend so much time on, being at my anal retentive worst, that that will be over soon. So"and here Picabo paused and pointed from her injured knee to her heart"even though I'm trying to get this healed, I'm also working to keep this growing."
Despite her namewhich, I've written, sounds like a red-light district in a Disney movieand despite her bizarre hippie upbringing and despite her persevering in a sport where she must fly at breakneck speed, Picabo Street is one of the more stable famous American athletes. Certainly, she is as charming as any. And charmed.
Why, she overcame the most horrendous injury to win her gold medal at Nagano in a race that almost seemed ordained from heaven. Remember? The weather changed at the last minute, so that, incredibly, by going down firstthat became an advantage instead of a disadvantage. Remember that bit of mysticism?
Now, apart from helping her understand her past lives, the woman whom Picabo describes as her "energy reader"a lady known only as Sapphirehas told her that, in all her reincarnations, she tends to be three things: an entertainer and a healer and a teacher. Right now, Sapphire envisions Picabo standing in the middle of a field, teaching others. And the field is so flat. There are no more steep mountain trails Picabo Street has any need to speed down anymore.
Frank Deford, one of Sports Illustrated's most renowned writers, returned to the magazine on March 1. These commentaries, which appear every Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, will be posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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