On a crisp and
sunny late spring day, only small patches of snow are still visible on the
mountains cradling Park City, Utah. But the prospect of summer holds no
melancholy for 36-year-old Picabo Street, the former downhill superstar.
"I'm really into horses now," she says as she strides through the
dining room of the Stein Eriksen Lodge at the Deer Valley resort, her
strawberry-blonde hair pulled into a long ponytail. "This is a great season
Yes, the skier once propelled by the mantra Get back on the horse now does just
that almost every day. "I've always loved the peaceful, intelligent power
of a horse," says Street, who keeps four horses--two Appaloosas and two
Norwegian Fjords--on her 10-acre spread in Park City and has a fifth at a
training facility nearby. "They are such mirrors of your energy level. When
I retired and started working with them, they'd run from me. I was so jacked up
and intense. I'd have this mission in mind, and they'd go, Nonononono, you need
to calm down before you come talk to us."
While Street has
learned to project tranquillity with the equine set, away from the stables she
still radiates the passion and purpose that drove her past numerous injuries to
five international skiing medals, tying her with Cindy Nelson for the most ever
by an American woman. In the five years since her retirement, Street has
started a foundation, become a mother--her son, Treyjan, turns three in
August--and embraced a new cause, the prevention of child abuse. And there are
more projects on the horizon. "I'm just getting to a place where I'm ready
to hammer it again," she says.
When Street left
her native Idaho (she was named after the small town of Picabo--derived from a
Native American word meaning "shining waters") to hammer it in her
first career, she made an indelible mark. After getting kicked off the U.S. ski
team as a teen for her rebelliousness, she was reinstated a few months later
and won a surprise Olympic downhill silver medal at Lillehammer in '94. For the
next three years she dominated the sport, with back-to-back World Cup downhill
titles in '95 and '96--the first American skier, man or woman, to win a season
title--and a gold medal in the downhill at the 1996 World Championships in
Spain. "She had an intimidation factor," says 2006 Olympian Lindsey
Kildow, who grew up idolizing Street. "She knew she was going to win, and
everyone at the start house knew she was going to win."
didn't always endear her to teammates, but crowds loved her, and she loved them
back. "The more attention she got, the better she'd do," says former
U.S. women's coach Paul Major. Street's star rose so high and so fast that Nike
made her the first winter athlete with a signature shoe.
At the end of '96,
Street blew out her already reconstructed left ACL in a practice-run crash at
Vail. But 14 months later, after another reconstruction and an accelerated
rehab, she took Olympic gold in the Super�G--an event she had never won in
World Cup competition--at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. "That was the
most magical moment for me," she says. "Winning an Olympic gold medal
had been my dream since I was 10."
Street planned to
retire the following year, after the 1999 World Cup event in Vail. "I
wanted to go out on American soil, and I wanted to go out on top," she
says. But 30 days after her victory in Japan she suffered a horrifying crash in
a World Cup race in Switzerland (on a Friday the 13th). The wipeout shattered
her left femur, shredded her right knee and, she says, "introduced me to
fear for the first time in my life."
retirement target for the 2002 Salt Lake Games, Street plowed through another
grueling rehab, this one lasting nearly two years. But her hard work didn't end
in Olympic triumph this time. On the day of the downhill she drew an
unfavorable start position--26--and finished 16th. "When people ask if I'm
disappointed that I didn't win a medal in Salt�Lake, I have to say
no," says Street. "It wouldn't change how I feel about myself or how I
feel about my career. And frankly, my competitiveness subsided substantially
after I broke my leg. I don't miss racing; I'm very peacefully done."
She still skis, in
her capacity as ambassador of the Park City Mountain Resort and as a regular
ski geek who rushes to the top of Jupiter Peak on powder days to get
"freshies." While Street also satisfies her jones for speed by riding
her 10-year-old Appaloosa, Cha-Cha, she says that her real passion these days
is "making a positive difference for the next generation."
retiring she started the Picabo Street of Dreams Foundation to provide
financial assistance to children chasing their own goals. But when she came
across alarming statistics about child abuse, she decided to channel her energy
into that cause first. She's now the spokesperson for the National Children's
Alliance, which oversees more than 600 child advocacy centers around the
country. "One in four girls and one in six boys are [reported to be]
touched inappropriately by the time they are 18 years old," Street says.
Studies indicate that only about 10% of that is actually reported. "It's a
dirty little secret," says Street.
In 2005, Street
started a fund-raiser called the Picabo Ski Challenge, held in Park City during
the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival. Last January the event made
$200,000 for the NCA, double what it raised in '06. "I'm very passionate
about this," she says. "When I had Trey it got even more intense. It
always made me uncomfortable when people labeled me a hero because I came back
from knee injuries and a broken leg to go 90 miles an hour down a hill. To me
that's not heroic; that's self-indulgent. A hero is someone who sacrifices
himself for another. Not that I'm sacrificing anything, but I am using what
image and celebrity I have to bring awareness to this cause and make a positive
difference. And that makes me feel more comfortable being called a hero. It