Lindsey Jacobellis, UNFORGIVING: Lessons from the Fall

Lindsey Jacobellis, UNFORGIVING: Lessons from the Fall

Zibby Owens hosts Lindsey Jacobellis to discuss her deeply personal new memoir, UNFORGIVING: LESSONS FROM THE FALL. They talk about the pressure athletes face and the relentless scrutiny their performance undergoes. Lindsey also describes the resilience, personal growth, and love for the sport that kept her going despite facing numerous injuries and public scrutiny, especially concerning a small stumble during the Olympics which cost her the gold medal. They also touch on the supportive role her family played and her life post-book, which still involves training and cherishing the joy snowboarding brings her. Through a tone of celebration, Lindsey expresses her continued passion for snowboarding and the unique experiences her career has provided.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lindsey. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, Unforgiving: Lessons from the Fall. Thanks for being here.

Lindsey Jacobellis: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited.

Zibby: I found your story to be absolutely fascinating. I must admit I did not know about the fall part of your story. I just didn’t know. I didn’t follow the — I just missed that whole thing. Reading it coming into it fresh was so interesting to me. I only, after I finished reading it, watched the footage of what had happened then. That’s only a small part of your overall story, especially as you read it in the book. Maybe you should kick this off by talking about why you decided to write this book now and how this book has really impacted your life so far.

Lindsey: It’s quite interesting. For the last, I want to say, four or five years, I kept hearing people say, you should write a book. You should write a book. I’m like, write a book? I haven’t a big win. I haven’t finished my story in that aspect. It was really hard to wrap my mind around the concept, you should write a book. I also just really didn’t know what I needed to say. I was still trying to figure myself out and grow so much as a person and as an athlete. It was also a very intimidating thought because I just wrote the kids’ book. Taking that on myself, it was a fun project to do during COVID because we were all shut in. It made sense to throw myself into something. To take it to the next level and write a memoir, that very much intimidated me. The reason why I kept it kind of to the side and decided, you know, maybe this is something that I could do — then my writer approached me after the Olympics and said, “We need to bring your story to life.” At first, I was like, okay, let’s do this, and then still trying to figure out what I really wanted to say and what my overall message of my book was going to be.

It is about growing up in a sport while you’re young and then developing as an individual and as an athlete. A lot of people see these athletes on TV, and then they just assume that they have these perfect lives and that they don’t have any other personal struggles. They expect them to be a hundred percent at the time and no mistakes. That can’t happen all the time. You want everything to come together for you, but it just doesn’t always do that. People have to understand the ins and outs in what athletes face on a daily basis and what their struggles are long-term. When this opportunity came about and HarperCollins wanted to publish my book, I really thought this was a great opportunity to have my side of the story shared and share my whole perspective on what I experienced and how I grew up and that it was okay to be taking these steps in growth and personal development to reach my best self athletically and professionally as an individual on this stage. I was really, really fortunate to be a part of this process and learning so much about this process. It was quite special. It was very overwhelming at times, but I took it as a new challenge, every step. Learning about every new step was pretty special.

Zibby: It’s sort of funny because almost anyone in any other field can come in and write a book, but all of the people who write books can’t just pop in and win gold medals in the Olympics and all of that. It’s another amazing accomplishment. Just to get this fall out of the way to then talk about everything else, you had what, on the video, was maybe two seconds of not even a big wipeout. Looks like, from the outside — I read all the details in the book. You basically caught an edge as if you were skiing or something and then just fell a little bit, got right back up, and won the silver medal in the Olympics. Yet that has been portrayed as this colossal mistake, failure, glitch, whatever. The media has been all over it. It was a tiny stumble, and you came in second instead of first. It’s not like you were lying there. You wrote about your brother Benny’s fall. That was one of the most harrowing parts of the whole book, was watching him when he didn’t get up. I expected, from the book, to see a video where you were in a pile. It was more just a little stumble. It speaks more to the media and everybody else than it speaks to what happened to you. We all make mistakes. We all stumble. This was just a stumble on a very public stage, which then, essentially, had to haunt you forever because nobody would let it go. You poor thing. I can’t believe how much attention it got.

Lindsey: It did. I think it was just very unfortunate. I think it got so much attention because around the Olympics, athletes are expected to perform a certain way. You have the execution. You follow through. When situations like that happen, it’s just a way for the media and commentators to dissect every square inch of that and why that happened or why this. Why did they do this? I spent so much time reflecting and trying to understand, ultimately, why I did it. I couldn’t really come to a conclusion, that it was my immaturity, me being a young athlete, and me just all of a sudden forgetting that I was trying to compete for a gold. I was having fun as an athlete, as a young kid snowboarding doing what I loved. We put so much pressure on athletes. Still to this day when I watch football or any other sport and there’s that winning moment — it’s the complete pass or the touchdown or the goal. I have those moments of, yes! Then I immediately feel for the other team or the other individual because I’ve been on that receiving end. They don’t necessarily get torn apart the way I do, but you understand that loss and that feeling immediately. I can relate. I’m very empathetic to the athletes that just come up short because I know what they’re going through. I know that they’re frustrated with themselves. They’re fierce competitors. They want that next time to have that opportunity again. However, it doesn’t come around that fast. Sometimes you have to just wait a long time to have that moment again. Sometimes it doesn’t come around.

You said this was such a small part of the book. Yet it was a key factor in shaping me as an individual for a very, very long time not only as an athlete, but in a social way too, in how I approached everything. Then I noticed that my approach wasn’t working as I go from one Olympics to the next, to the next. When athletes are preparing for the Olympics, it’s not just, I’m this athlete, this is all I have on my plate. There are other factors at play that individuals are always dealing with. They’re juggling trying to perform at that perfect one percent all the time while balancing everyday life as well. To have that moment of, maybe, five minutes that you have to actually be absolutely perfect and everything focused, that’s a very, very precise execution timeframe to be on your game. That can be hard. I would love for readers to understand the growth of what I was trying to accomplish as I was getting older, but also being forgiving to individuals that they’re watching up on the TV and knowing that maybe it’s just not their day. Maybe something’s happening in their lives that they’re just a little off because obviously, they deserve to be at this level. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and really support them in their endeavors because they obviously have been doing something correct to be on this platform.

Zibby: Right, amazing. The microscope under which athletes are evaluated, picked apart, it’s really mind-blowing. Especially, the book really speaks to your personal resilience. You could’ve taken something like that and quit. There are lots of other stories, other books that end in a very different way. I feel like the book jives with what I saw you do after you came to a stop after the fall when you got to the end. You kind of shrugged and then took off your boots, and onto the next. You were clearly disappointed, but then you were just like, okay. That attitude is probably what has enabled you to keep going and keep winning and becoming the oldest woman to ever win in Olympics. That’s amazing, a gold medal. You’ve also gone through so much physical pain. That was a public little blip. Let’s shift the camera over, so to speak, on all the stuff you’ve put your body through and all the injuries you talked about and your collar bone being popped back into place and your knees drained and your ACL popping. Reading the book, you’re just in it with each one. You’re like, no, now this has happened. Tell me what it takes to get through all of that and then just keep coming back.

Lindsey: There were several times after an Olympic cycle or after an injury where you ask yourself, is it time to be finished with this? Myself, growing up, you fall off the horse, you make a mistake, you get up and you try it again. You don’t want to be defeated in that way. My mindset always was, get back to the level that you were competing, and feel that drive. If you are not happy with that feeling and you don’t feel like you have that competitive energy and that grit anymore, then I’m allowing myself to step away. It would be okay to step away. My knee injury definitely took me out for almost two seasons because I had to get it fixed twice. I had a problem with it. There was times that I thought I was never going to get back up to speed, that I would be afraid to feel how I was in the gate and had that same energy and that aggression. I was essentially afraid of losing a part of me that has really dictated the individual I am, so it’s then, who are you? You always have those fears. It’s not just about, you’re a competitor. You’re an athlete.

It is a big part of your core of how you move through every day, how you’re strategically finding a parking space. How are you moving through the grocery store efficiently? Everyone always tells me, you’re just always moving so efficiently. That’s part of my job. That fear to potentially lose who you are, then you’re starting from scratch. That’s really scary. I told myself, let’s not look at the competition scope to be like, I need to get back competing. I need to get back to the level that I was to be fearless. If I’m still not in love with it at the same capacity, then I could walk away. It would take some time to climb back up to that level. Then once I felt it, I’d come back around, and I’d have this big smile on my face and go up to my coaches and be like, “I felt it. I got hungry again.” They’re like, “Oh, yeah, we saw it.” Those moments are just as important as winning. Having those mini victories in between when you are growing, when you are healing from an injury is just as important to give yourself that acknowledgment that there is something to celebrate.

Zibby: I feel like that tone of celebration and joy was also really pervasive in the book, how much you love what you do. I really do love reading athlete stories and overcoming — I get so inspired by stories like this. Sometimes a lot of athletes, the joy is completely ripped away. There are so many people who played — I played tennis in college, and I hated it. I swam, and now I’ll never get in the pool again. There’s something about your story where you can feel the enjoyment of just doing the thing. How do you preserve that?

Lindsey: I would say really focusing on finding the balance because we go with such high intensity into sport. It can go from weekend to weekend to weekend where we almost have no time off in the winter. If you actively try to focus on getting out with your friends and family and not be in a competitive field and go out and free ride — that’s one beauty about snowboarding. Yes, I’m a competitive snowboarder, but I can still go out and free ride with friends and family, and it is nothing like in a competition setting. That’s not always the case with every sport. You can’t always enjoy it with friends and family at the same capacity. It does make it really special that you can go outside, get fresh air, and reflect on those moments. I learned to snowboard with my dad. That was something we did together. We can now see where we are in life and then come back to those moments and go up the gondola at Stratton and reflect those times. We’ve come so far. Yet we still like coming back to these similar places and remembering where it all started.

Zibby: Wow. Your family plays a big role in the book and obviously, in your life. I referenced earlier, the moment where you were about to be in a race yourself, the semifinals or something you were doing. Your brother was with his heat or his team or whatever. He had this horrible fall from which he did get up. You could see it all livestreamed. Your parents, you realized, had the video sort of cut off at the base of the mountain, so they didn’t know what was going on. They were terrified. You were terrified. Time just seemed to go on forever. Luckily, he got up. Tell me more about that moment and how it brought your family together and even how you put one foot in front of the other and how you then went down and won that race and all of it. How do you carry — I guess we all have the fear that at any moment, something bad can happen. I guess that’s part of life itself. I could walk out the door and get hit by a bus. It is what it is, but you are putting yourself in a more likely position to have something go wrong. Talk about all that.

Lindsey: That fear always is present in your mind. The way that you can kind of quiet that background is really just try to prepare yourself and control what you can control. In that moment, I was at the top of the course. I’m sitting there helpless. I’m supposed to be strapped in the gate going. We have a course hold. Then realized, I’m like, oh, my gosh, my brother was in that heat. What’s the course hold about? Then they’re like, “It’s Benny.” Anything can happen in boardercross. I don’t know the severity. I didn’t know how it happened. I’m just now seeing the footage. I have people trying to comfort me. They’re doing everything. We’ve got top medical people here. They’re trained for this. It’s the Extreme Games. We’re in the best hands, in the best scenario. You have to try to keep telling yourself that. I had to almost just go numb and let the information come to me because me trying to boardercross my way into multiple scenarios to figure out a solution would render me even more helpless. Just sitting there numb and frozen and trying to understand what was happening was really, really hard to do. It was really upsetting.

I had really close teammates. Leslee was there. She was supporting me. She was going through nursing school, so she was telling me, “These are good signs.” Then all of a sudden, they’re like, “Racers in the gate.” I’m like, oh, my gosh, I’m racing next, and almost wanting to pull out and find my family. I knew if I did that, my brother would’ve been like, you stopped racing because I went away? What was that going to do? You sit in the hospital room with me. He would’ve never let me let that down. Even my coaches and teammates are like, “No, you’re going to get in the gate. You’re going to get down there faster and get to your brother faster than if you were to gather up all your stuff and try to get down to him.” There’s moments that happened so fast. You can’t really respond. You’re trying to do your best. You’re trying to look for the people around you that give you support to then help guide you on how to react because sometimes you are just frozen in place.

Zibby: Tell me about life now post-book, where you are today.

Lindsey: Post-book, I am still actively training to be competing this year. Obviously, I’m getting ready for the book tour, so I will not be joining my teammates down in South America to get on snow, but that’ll just give me a little bit more recovery time. If I’ve learned anything about the longevity in my sport, it’s to really allow myself to have recovery time. I’m kind of taking things as they come right now. I might not commit to the entire World Cup season. I’ve been trying to plan a snowboarding trip with my brother somewhere fun. It’s harder for us to get together and snowboard because he has young kids. If we put something on the schedule — we’re planning on going someplace to get, maybe, some backcountry in. That’s going to be our snowboard trip together. I might skip out on a competition or two and just really go back to enjoying the sport and making sure that I’m tapping in on those moments that help me going for such a long time.

Zibby: If you could go back and start your career in racing and all of that back, would you do it all over again?

Lindsey: I would tell myself, probably, not to go for that grab. It’s hard. To try to do everything over again exactly with the knowledge that I have now, it would almost be cheating. You’d, of course, be doing something different. I really do enjoy the opportunities that I had. That my parents were able to come up with this far-fetched idea — you’re going to go to school and snowboard part of the day and then take care of your studies. It was such a weird, outlandish approach to going to school. Then how I was able to travel and experience the world and different cultures is something I’m so thankful for. It’s really opened my mind and helped educate me in ways that I still see to this day in how comfortable I am when I take off on a plane somewhere and can go there by myself and then eventually link up with somebody. Then I also have friends all over the world. It’s a unique experience.

Zibby: You wrote in the beginning of the book, you had separation anxiety, essentially, with your medals as they went through the metal detector at the White House. Then they fell. One of them got chipped. Did you end up fixing the medal?

Lindsey: It is not fixed, no. I have embraced it, but that was a very dramatic moment because I was so protective of these medals. Then when that happened, all I could think about was, how am I going to fix it? This moment finally came together. It was so perfect. Now my medal’s not even perfect. Of course, it was the individual one. I’m like, how is this race marked in such a way? Then now reflecting back on it, it makes it even more personal to me that it’s not going to look like everyone else’s. My gold medal has a little something different that makes it mine even more, but it took a little bit to get there. It was the panic. How do I fix it? What happened? It got in my head for a few minutes. When you’re just overly tired, when you’re just going and going and going, that seems to completely consume you. That’s all you can think about, which then fatigues you more.

Zibby: Lindsey, I have so much respect for you. I am so impressed at your tenacity and ability to pick yourself up and keep going and keep training and pursue what you’re good at and what you love no matter what. It’s really amazing, all that you’ve put your body through, and your family and your life. You do it with a smile on your face. It’s just really awesome. Congratulations. Congratulations on another feather in your cap with having a book out. I was riveted by your story. Congratulations. I will be rooting for you.

Lindsey: I really appreciate that. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story.

Zibby: Thank you. Take care. Thanks, Lindsey.

Lindsey: Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

UNFORGIVING: Lessons from the Fall by Lindsey Jacobellis

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