On the Road to Olympic Gold with the World’s Best Slalom Skier

Jan 29, 2018 11:30 AM

Author: Bill Keshlear

Tags: USOC, Team USA Partnership

A video focuses on Mikaela Shiffrin as she blasts out of the starting gate in Courchevel, France, and threads her way to another win on this year’s FIS World Cup circuit. The 22-year-old ski-racing phenomenon is all smiles as she hockey stops past the finish line.

The video jumps from Shiffrin to capture a more subdued reaction. Lyndsay Young (DPT, 2014; BASc, 2010) is beaming. Young’s reaction reflects the sensibility of her profession: engaged, supportive, unobtrusive. Shiffrin’s success is also Young’s success.

Young, 30, is part of an elite team — including two coaches, an equipment technician, and Shiffrin’s parents — behind the development of the skier who won the overall World Cup title in March.

It was a historic moment in ski racing. Only four other Americans have won the title since its inception in 1967: Phil Mahre, Tamara McKinney, Bode Miller, and Lindsey Vonn. Among that group, only Vonn has won more races – one more – to claim the title (the “overall” season title goes to the racer who scores the most points across all five of the Alpine disciplines). Shiffrin could be the United States’ best bet for Olympic gold in Alpine competition in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Young plays a unique role as part of Team Shiffrin. When Shiffrin hit a patch of ice and fell during a warm-up run preparing for a race in Are, Sweden, a couple of years ago, Young tapped her U of U first-responder training to assess Shiffrin’s injury, help take her off the slope, activate a medical evacuation back to the U.S., and assist in her recovery. After what Shiffrin called “dawn to dusk rehab” on an MCL tear, hairline fracture, and bone bruise in her right knee, she rejoined the World Cup circuit two months later.

“Mikaela returned and won most everything for the rest of the year,” Young said.

The physical therapist and athletic trainer started working for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association out of its Center for Excellence in Park City as a student intern. Then she landed a full-time job after completing an advanced degree. She eventually became part of the “family,” traveling the world with Shiffrin, developing and constantly revising a balance, strength, agility, and flexibility regime to help her stay at the top of a sport where the difference between winning and placing tenth is measured in hundredths of seconds.

“There are very few people in the world who understand what Mikaela needs in order to succeed from a balance and motion perspective – and at the same time – care as deeply for the sport as Lyndsay,” said Scott Ward, PT, PhD, chairman of the College of Health’s Physical Therapy and Athletic Training Department.

Young analyzes the racer’s posture, movement, and stress on joints and muscles through thousands of twists and turns, flexes and gyrations on slopes even double-black diamond skiers would be anxious about. She offers prescriptions to Shiffrin to get stronger, quicker, better. It involves myriad techniques.

“On the day of the race with Mikaela, we’ll start with a really good warmup. She’ll do a 15-minute bike ride to get her heart rate up. Then we’ll do dynamic mobility exercises and some reactive work to make sure her nervous system is firing and ready to go,” Young said. “Right before the start of the race, we have a routine for balance, perception, strength, and visualization.”

Care to dance?

In 2016, Shiffrin posted a video on her Facebook page of a tap-dancing routine from summer training in Chile. Mikaela and Lyndsay were loosening up to Parov Stelar’s “Booty Swing,” choreographed by Young.

Shiffrin captioned the video as follows: “So we put together a fun little dance in Chile this summer, and just finally edited it all together for ya. This was my @lyndsay.anne physio's first time editing a video. I think she did a pretty great job, don't you? oh ps ... she also choreographed the whole thing. #itshardtodanceinskiboots”

So far, the video has over 218,000 views.

Lyndsay and Mikaela
Instagram/Lyndsay Young

It’s doubtful whether Young picked up the subtleties of Euro electro-swing choreography in a PT course, but she was a good student at the U, always open to possibilities. “Engaged” is a word Ward used to describe Lyndsay’s student career. That’s an understatement.

“I learned that if you put the work in, you can get where you want to go,” said Young. “The University of Utah helped me find a path toward a dream job. I didn’t even know it was a possibility.”

A ski racer who learned her turns at tiny Ausblick ski area, outside of Sussex, Wis., but spent family vacations in Park City, Young was a coach at Rowland Hall’s Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City for much of her academic career.

Young also was class vice-president (Doctorate of Physical Therapy); senior class president (Athletic Training Education Program); sophomore and junior vice-president (ATEP); Associated Students of the University of Utah, 2009-2010; president of Athletic Training Student Association; Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers’ Association student representative; and recipient of the Bill Bean Most Outstanding Student Athletic Trainer Award.

She received numerous clinical internships working as a student physical therapist. In one, she gained experience with patients by participating in their rehabilitation from strokes, brain injuries, or spinal cord injuries. In another, hands-on, patient-centered care focused on manual therapy, neuro re-education, and individualized exercise programs for a wide range of patients from professional athletes to elderly.

University of Utah Health provided opportunities with the University of Utah football and softball teams. She worked at Utah Olympic Park with the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, Juan Diego Catholic High School with basketball, wrestling, lacrosse teams, and Westminster College with athletes in a range of programs.

“It was cool to have these opportunities and get out of the classroom,” Young said. “I was really involved in the University of Utah. I was really busy.”

“Man, I don’t how I did all that,” Young said, suggesting with a wink and a nod in her voice that maybe the pressure cooker called the FIS ski circuit – which began at the end of October and doesn’t let up until March, with close to 40 races across Europe and North America and the Olympics sandwiched in – was by comparison a glide down a bunny slope at Ausblick.  

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