Only seconds in and ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin was nearly out of breath.
The two-time Olympic champion quickly settled into a rhythm and breezed through her rendition of a song popularized by Amy Winehouse in front of a social media audience tuned in for a recent online fundraising concert.
Different stage. Same strong performance.
When she’s not winning races, Shiffrin unplugs by singing and playing guitar. Music was always a passion she shared with her late father, Jeff, who died on Feb. 2 after an accident at his home in Colorado.
“Honestly, it’s a way to essentially not think about anything,” said Shiffrin, who announced a partnership Tuesday with Madison Keys as she joined the tennis standout in their lineup of “Champions” for “ Kindness Wins,” a platform with the mission of spreading good will. “I’m a ski racer. I’m not a musician. But I love it.”
Growing up, her father played the piano, guitar, french horn and trumpet. He enjoyed anything by Jimmy Buffett or the Beach Boys.
Their favorite song? Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Shiffrin posted part of the lyrics from the tune on her Instagram account on April 2: “If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal.” The accompanying picture was a young Shiffrin leaning into her father.
The second part of her post: “Please come home.”
“The thing you always wish for is more time, right?” said the 25-year-old Shiffrin, who has been training during the coronarivus pandemic at home in Edwards, Colorado. “Just more time with the people that you love.”
Shiffrin lost her grandmother in October. Pauline Mary Condron was 98. That was a reason why her mom/coach, Eileen, took a break from traveling with her on the circuit last season.
“I’m grateful," Shiffrin said, “that she was able to be home with my dad a little bit more."
Less than four months later, Shiffrin traveled home from Europe to Colorado in order to be with her father after he suffered a head injury. He died at 65. Jeff was an anesthesiologist and a former ski racer at Dartmouth who often could be seen at races with his camera around his neck in order to take photos of his daughter.
Shiffrin took a six-week break from the circuit. She returned in Are, Sweden, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak before she could race again. Federica Brignone of Italy captured the overall crown, ending Shiffrin’s three-year reign.
Really, though, being there was more about a feeling.
“I got back to the state of mind that I needed to be in to be able race,” she said. "I wanted to stand in the start gate of a World Cup again.”
For races, she gets fired up by listening to a particular song (like Eminem's “Guts Over Fear” featuring Sia). The musical routine has served her well as she’s won two Olympic gold medals, five world championship titles and 66 World Cup races. That's within striking distance of Lindsey Vonn's 82 victories, which is the all-time mark among female ski racers.
Like most sports, the upcoming World Cup season could be affected by the pandemic (the calendar is set to be confirmed next week). Traditionally, the season starts with men’s and women’s giant slalom races in Soelden, Austria, in late October.
Whenever it starts, her mom/coach will be by her side.
“I couldn’t imagine her being home alone,” Shiffrin said. “She supports me in every way that a mother possibly can -- and more. It’s still really, really overwhelming.”
Music has long been her getaway. She writes her own lyrics, including a song inspired by the factory workers at Barilla (her sponsor) in Italy and dedicated to frontline workers.
She performs, too.
Last month, Shiffrin opened an online concert for “ Goggles for Docs,” a program that provides ski goggles to healthcare workers. Shiffrin performed Winehouse's version of “Valerie” before turning the screen over to musician KT Tunstall.
“Music is supposed to make people feel good,” said Shiffrin, whose mom also is into music. “I’m not Lady Gaga, but if it puts a smile on their face, that’s the whole point.”
Right along with nurturing her passion for songs and the slopes, her father instilled an important credo: To be nice. Always.
Shiffrin is putting that axiom into action through “ Kindness Wins,” an organization that started earlier this year and acts as an umbrella for kindness initiatives. The foundation recently featured “Kindness In Crisis,” an online auction led by Keys, Shiffrin, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins and mountain bike racer Kate Courtney. They raised money for COVID-19 relief through signed hats, uniforms and other memorabilia. .
“Being kind to people,” Shiffrin said, “that’s something that doesn’t go out of style.”