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‘Honestly, everyone should have a therapist’

'Honestly, everyone should have a therapist'

Lindsey Vonn didn’t talk about depression in the early stages of her Olympic skiing career. Part of her viewed it as a sign of weakness. Part of her didn’t understand the impact it was having. And in American society at the time, mental health was not exactly the topic du jour.

“I wish I had been able to – or been strong enough to – talk about it back in the early parts of my career,” Vonn told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “But I think the older I got and the more support I got from others, the more I realized there’s no shame in it.”

That’s why, as another iteration of the Olympic Games near, Vonn is eager to talk about mental health and the unique stressors that athletes face, both before and after competition. The 36-year-old may be retired, and she obviously earned her three Olympic medals at the Winter Games, rather than the Summer. But for Vonn, that doesn’t make the subject any less important – particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I feel like, honestly, everyone should have a therapist,” she said. “It should be like having a dentist, or going to a pediatrician. We should all take mental health seriously and do our best every day to make sure we’re taking care of it.”

Vonn won two medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and a third in Pyeongchang in 2018. In 2012, she revealed that she had been quietly fighting depression, which runs in her family, for more than a decade and had been taking anti-depressants to manage her symptoms.

Vonn spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday on behalf of Allianz, an Olympic sponsor which said it is providing mental health resources for athletes – including by provided emotional support dogs for a group of skateboarders training in Los Angeles.

The idea hit home for Vonn, who has three dogs and said she has leaned on them in difficult moments. She adopted one of her dogs, Leo, in 2014 while recovering from a knee injury that caused her to miss the Sochi Games. And Vonn famously brought another, Lucy, with her as she traveled for competition in the final years of her career, including to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I think dogs give you a level of unconditional love and support that you don’t, unfortunately, get from humans,” Vonn said. “Lucy doesn’t know that I ski race. She doesn’t care. She’s just happy every time I walk through the door. For me, that always gave me a sense of peace and stability. And it grounded me, because it made me keep everything in perspective.”

Lindsey Vonn holds her dog Lucy after a news conference at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 9.

Vonn said that, even as a retired Winter Olympian, she’s “definitely jealous” of the athletes who will be competing this summer in Tokyo, where the Games begin July 23. She’s most looking forward to watching skateboarding, tennis, the U.S. women’s soccer team – and, of course, Simone Biles.

As for future Winter Games, Vonn was recently named to the governing board of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, which hopes to bring the Olympics back to Utah in either 2030 or 2034. She hopes the existing – and well-maintained – infrastructure from the 2002 Games will help defray some of the costs that are normally associated with hosting the Olympics.

Vonn was also asked about the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which are slated to begin Feb. 4, and how athletes may be affected by repeated calls to boycott those Games due to China’s detainment of Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group. President Joe Biden’s advisers have called it “genocide.”

“I think the Olympics provide a great platform, for people to speak about things they believe are important, to bring to light things that maybe would not be brought to light,” Vonn said.

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lindsey Vonn on mental health, strain of Olympics, 2022 Beijing Games

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