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After very different encounters with two childhood role models, the Olympic gold medalist skier learned the value of a winning attitude.
One weekend when I was 9, two of my idols from the U.S. Ski Team came to sign autographs at the ski shop in my Minnesota hometown. When I heard about the event, I couldn't believe I'd have the chance to see them in person—on TV, they seemed like superheroes.
Picabo Street, the downhill champion, appeared at the store first, and she was amazing. "Keep following your dreams," she told me. With those simple words, she made the idea of being an Olympian seem attainable. She signed a poster for me that I still have.
But the next day I went back to meet my other idol, who shall remain anonymous. I arrived at the tail end of her signing, and when I asked for an autograph, she coldly said no and walked away. I was crushed. My parents tried to console me, saying, "She's probably stressed. She must have had a bad day. Try not to think about it." But as an impressionable kid, I couldn't stop thinking about it. After having these opposite experiences—one so inspiring, one devastating—I realized what a difference your attitude can make.
That moment stayed with me. When kids recognize me now, whether they want an autograph, a high five, or to ask me my favorite color, I never say no. If I'm at an event like the meet and greet I did last year in Vail, which lasted about three hours in ten-degree weather, I don't focus on the fact that I'm freezing. I remember that if you stay upbeat, it can have a huge impact on those around you.
I make the effort to stay positive in other areas of my life, too. If one of my friends gets hurt in a relationship, I try to point out something she can learn from it (although you'd have to ask my friends if I'm actually helping). And when I'm training with the U.S. Ski Team and feeling exhausted, I still try to give people support. Of course, I have my moments. But it's usually easier and more fun to be positive than it is to be negative—and it has served me well.
In November, while I was having lunch with students from the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, a 16-year-old boy named Parker politely asked if I would come to his homecoming dance that Friday night. I couldn't say no. And then there I was, dancing and having fun, after missing my own high school homecoming because I was busy traveling and skiing. Parker was a great date—and I was so glad I had said yes.
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From the February 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!