Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin knows she might never stop grieving the sudden 2020 death of her father, Jeff. And she's OK with that.
In an emotional essay published by The Players' Tribune on Thursday, Shiffrin offers new details and perspective on her grieving process over the past two years, and how it has impacted her on the slopes. She describes grief not as linear "like a climb up a mountain," but rather "more like a maze." And winning, she writes, is no antidote.
"After Beijing, when I turned things around and ended up winning the World Cup, people would say things to me like, 'Mikaela, now that you're in a much better place...' And I never said it out loud, but I would always think: 'Am I?' " Shiffrin writes in the essay.
"We equate winning with being OK, and failure with being not OK. The real truth is that I'm neither OK nor not OK. It really depends on the day, and it has almost nothing to do with how fast I came down a mountain."
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Shiffrin, 27, has won three Olympic medals and 12 World Cup titles but is coming off a disappointing performance at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she was favored to win multiple medals but finished no higher than ninth in any of her individual events. She proceeded to win the overall World Cup title in March.
Shiffrin writes in The Players' Tribune that she still doesn't know what happened to her at the Olympics.
"(People) want some kind of answer. And I genuinely don't have one," she writes. "I could give you the media answer that I always give. I could put on a brave face and tell you some generic thing. But the real truth is... I don't know."
Shiffrin does suggest, however, that her father's death has changed her mindset during competition. She writes that she struggled "just to not feel guilty for doing the thing that he loved to do.
"When I knew that I had a chance to win my first race after his death, I had this really surreal moment at the top of the mountain before my second run," Shiffrin writes. "I knew that if I had a good run, then I'd win. But if I won, then I'd be winning in a reality where my dad isn't here to experience it. And I was asking myself, 'Do I want to even exist in this reality?' "
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mikaela Shiffrin pens emotional essay on grief, father's sudden death