Lindsey Vonn, 2010 Olympic gold and bronze medalist and two-time defending World Cup all-around skiing champion, has got "a lot of moxie," Herb Krohn said.
"Always has," he added. "Always been full of the dickens. She's all daredevil. All she wants to do is go faster and faster."
Herb knows. The Splendido resident is Vonn's maternal grandfather. Though Vonn, 25, and Krohn, 93, are separated by nearly 70 years and thousands of miles, they are linked by blood, by lives of adventure, by spirit and determination.
"I won't give up on anything," said Herb. An old hunting buddy used to call Herb the "Stubborn Dutchman," even if he's German.
Lindsey Vonn won't give up, either. She works out five hours a day, endures serious injuries and risks, lives on the road. "Dedicated?" her Grandpa Herb asks. "Wow."
Lindsey was the first child born to Herb's eldest daughter, Linda, and Alan Kildow. The pregnancy appeared just fine, until one day Linda woke "with a tremendous headache." She was rushed to the hospital, and Lindsey was born in emergency surgery. Linda went into a coma for 10 days. Her future was uncertain. "She came out of it," not knowing Lindsey was even born, Herb said.
Linda "overcame everything," said Herb's wife and Lindsey's step-grandmother, Mary.
Alan Kildow had Lindsey "out on the slopes when she was 4 years old," Herb said. It was clear, immediately, that Lindsey was special.
One day, Herb sat with Alan, and said "'this Lindsey is really going to be something. Think she'll ever make the Olympics?'"
Alan did not respond, but he had the look of someone with a plan. "He was pushing her, even when she was young," Herb said. "He was a man who pushed. He was quite demanding of everybody."
Lindsey was further encouraged by Skiing Hall of Famer Eric Sailer, at Buck Hill Ski Area near Minneapolis. The place had all of 300 vertical feet, a very small ski area, yet Sailer "pushed those kids through those gates, 20 times a night, and never let up on them until she developed confidence."
Lindsey developed confidence, all right. Alan could see Lindsey needed more challenge. The Kildows moved to Vail, Colo., where Lindsey was enrolled in a school in which students studied in the morning, then skied the rest of the day.
Lindsey Kildow, downhill racer, soon hit the big time.
"I've seen her twice in the last 10 years," once at her wedding to Thomas Vonn, Herb said. "She's just never home. Her mother never sees her." No family reunions for Lindsey. "She always was somewhere distant, skiing, some place.
"The thing I worry about, she was pushed into maturity," without some of the experiences of childhood, Herb said.
"All of a sudden, she's a world-class athlete. The poor kid, she missed all those things."
Herb and Mary both skied when they were younger. They both stopped in their early 70s … more than 20 years ago for Herb. They loved to ski.
"It's the most exhilarating sport, and I've been involved in all the sports you can think of," Herb said.
"We know how hard it is to go fast without falling down," he continued. "I pray she doesn't get injured."
When he watches Lindsey on TV, "my heart's in my mouth," even if he already knows the outcome, Herb said. Once, they went to a race in Park City, where Lindsey has built a great house, and watched her race at 70 miles per hour. "Oh my God, I pray she doesn't fall and kill herself," Herb said. "She's so fearless. She doesn't get that from me."
They were in Phoenix last Thursday, when Lindsey crashed in the slalom. "The minute we got home, someone said 'I hate to tell you what happened.' I certainly winced when I saw her on TV. I knew she hadn't been injured."
Herb remembers Lindsey's "horrendous" fall at the Olympics in Torino, Italy, four years ago. "She fell in a practice run," Herb said. "We thought that was the end of it." She was flown by helicopter to a hospital. "Next morning, the doctors said 'we can't believe it, but you don't have any broken bones,'" Herb said. "'Let me out of here, I want to ski'," she replied. "She was so disappointed she was never able to medal."
Lindsey's medals in Vancouver have come despite a shin injury that nearly kept her out of the games. Delays in skiing due to weather and snow conditions actually gave Lindsey some time to heal up.
Lindsey Vonn cried a long time after she won the gold medal in the Olympic downhill. Those were genuine tears of joy.
"This is what she aimed for all her life, the Olympics," Herb said. "She understands people think the Olympics is it. She's said 'I've got to win a gold medal in the Olympics, even if I win these other things.'"
"I don't think any of us have heard what she's going to do after the Olympics. We all wonder."
"When you reach the pinnacle, what's after that?" Mary asked. "I'm sure there's something."
"If she can continue on, and win the overall world championships, three years in a row, that's never been done," Herb said.
Mary thinks Lindsey will keep skiing, because she loves it so much. But she loves kids, too.
"She's really nice with kids," Mary said, including her younger siblings, and really about any child she meets. "It's very endearing," Mary said.
"It's nice for athletes as wholesome as Lindsey is to be a role model for children," Mary said. "A lot of kids are going to be wanting to emulate Lindsey Vonn. That's a nice thing."
Herb must make mention of his daughter, Linda, who's borne so much in her life, including raising the children, and a "terrible stroke." Linda is "outgoing, happy, a beautiful, beautiful lady," her proud father said. "And I know she can hardly believe what's happened. 'My own little baby, look at her'."
Herb and Mary Krohn have consumed all things Lindsey. "We read everything, we talk to her mother," Herb said. "We're so proud of her."
"He had tears in his eyes reading a thing in the paper yesterday," Mary said.
"I was so emotional, I was shaking," Herb said. "I said 'Mary, I'm so excited about all of this.'" He's had restless nights of sleep. "I wake up early, saying a little prayer, hoping she doesn't get hurt. It's amazing, how she can do all the things she's done."
Lindsey's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in a downhill tuck position that has drawn criticism for being suggestive.
"The SI cover, I brought it up and I hid it," Mary said.
"Who picked that picture?" Herb asked. "We were not thrilled, let's say, with the pose."
And she's been in the SI swimsuit edition. "I didn't care at all for that," Herb said. Still, those things won't diminish the Krohns' pride, and excitement, over Lindsey's accomplishments.
"I'm just taking it all in, and wondering, how can this be happening? Little old me, I did not have much to do with it, except I started the whole thing," Herb said. "I'm on an emotional high."
At Splendido, "everyone's been so solicitous. We've had tons of stuff under the door, notes, calls from old friends. My ex-wife even called."
"Everyone here is so supportive," Mary agreed. "They're asking Herb questions about his granddaughter. We've been overwhelmed with the cards and letters and congratulations. They're as excited as we are."
"I don't know what I'm going to do when it's all over," Herb said. "It's so exciting. Maybe I'll sleep better.
"The best in the world," he marvels of his granddaughter, and raises his arms in disbelief. "You can just hardly understand it."