Alumni Feature: Picabo's Street
U.S. Ski & Snowboard alumna and Olympic champion Picabo Street is not only one of the most decorated American ski racers in history, but off the mountain, her legacy lives on with her vision for shaping the lives of young athletes for years to come with Picabo Street Academy (PSA).
Street’s accolades on the mountain were a catalyst for many, many young American ski racers, including the most successful female ski racer of all time, recently retired legend Lindsey Vonn (Vail, Colo.). Vonn often recounts the moment when she was a wide-eyed 10-year-old known as “Lindsey Kildow,” waiting outside of Pierce Skate & Ski in her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota for what felt like hours to meet her idol Picabo Street.
At that point, Vonn’s three Olympic medals (including downhill gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games), eight World Championships medals, 20 World Cup titles, and a record 82 FIS Ski World Cup victories were not even on the radar. But Vonn was sure of one thing...she knew from that day onward what she wanted to do: be Picabo!
“I remember when I met Picabo Street, you know, how in awe I was of her and how much she inspired me, and I really hope to be that for young kids,” said Vonn of her relationship with Street and how it propelled her towards the creation of her own foundation to empower young girls, known as the “Lindsey Vonn Foundation.” Similarly, Street remembers the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City - when the two competed for Team USA - and Vonn’s knack for finding the fall line. Street told NBC in 2018, “You can’t teach somebody to love the fall line like that little girl loved the fall line.” And, in a time when U.S. alpine ski racing needed it most with Street set to retire, Vonn, came through with the best finish of the Games - a sixth place in the alpine combined.
Fast forward almost 25 years from that initial meeting and now, Street will look to carry forward her legacy of inspiring young athletes in a new and very powerful way - with her very own academy, born out of her own experience as a young athlete who struggled with the balancing act of academics and athletics. As a young alpine ski racer, Street went through an out-of-the-box education program herself, and when she started skiing with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team at around 15-years-old, put school on the back burner to focus on athletics.
“I had gone to Rowland Hall St. Marks School for a year, and that’s really when the seed was planted in me that I wanted to have a good education and that I kind of liked the challenge of school,” Street reflected. “So, this whole PSA idea started from my experience of just kind of looking outside the box and going ‘Ok how can I get an education while I’m skiing?’”
Four years ago Street moved back to Park City, Utah with a vision and a dream. At that point, she connected with close friend and mentor Michelle Demschar, whose husband Herwig was Street’s head coach when she was competing on the U.S. Ski Team. During one of their visits, Street turned to Demschar with an idea lightbulb beaming brightly above her head and exclaimed, “You know, I’m thinking about starting an academy.” Demschar turned around quickly, eyes all lit up and replied, “I think it’s a fantastic idea and I know exactly who we’ll call!” From there, Street and Demschar contacted Dan Kemp - former U.S. Ski & Snowboard TEAM Academy Founder and Headmaster.
That first meeting between Street, Demschar, and Kemp lasted for about 10 hours. The three minds melded from early afternoon to late evening, throwing their wish lists out there, case scenario’ing how it would all play out, and at the end of the meeting they looked at each other and said, “Can you see any reason why we wouldn’t attempt this?” The very decisive answer was “no - absolutely not.”
“So we charged forward, and it came together really organically - from finding our location to getting our funding, to building the curriculum,” Street commented. At that point, Kemp spent hours and hours combing through about 150 programs based on what they had outlined in their brain jam session, in terms of what would be successful and what would resonate with athletes. Rolling enrollment and year-round operating hours were high priority items, as they allow student-athletes to build a schedule that will suit their individual needs.
Curious as to what the learning environment actually looks like at PSA? Here’s how it shakes out: each of their students has a customized academic program to best suit his or her needs, where attendance and course completion is planned around training and competition schedules. Teachers provide year-round support and instruction in Park City classrooms from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. With this individualized, one-on-one approach that requires accountability and the student to drive their education path themselves, “the students know the material, they’re not afraid to ask questions, and they skyrocket,” Street said. That’s the PSA difference!
The vision of PSA is “exceptional individualized education” and their mission is to “provide unique, personalized education opportunities for students with an extracurricular passion so that they can achieve their dreams and fulfill their potential.” Street said: “A lot of the students coming to us have been ostracized a little bit...they’re kind of wondering how these school shoes fit. The coolest thing for me is watching them come in the door, a little bit skittish, and then two to three weeks they’re blossoming and gaining confidence and getting comfortable. And they start to realize they’re not such an oddball after all, but rather they fit into this competitive, encouraging, inspiring environment.”
PSA’s currently enrolled students come from all walks of sporting life and are a healthy mix of winter and summer athletes. Kids from swimming, lacrosse, skiing, biathlon, snowboarding, hockey, figure skating, luge and beyond, make up the PSA attendees. Street is hoping to also branch out to musicians and actors, who also struggle with the balancing act due to their demanding schedules. Street noted that the cross-sport vibe is very good for the student-athletes, giving them an understanding of what each other does as well as a respect for each other with a healthy banter.
PSA’s core values are represented by the six golden stars on the PSA crest:
Excellence – set the bar high, and aim to surpass it
Integrity – be true to yourself, and honest to all
Accountability – you are answerable for your actions to yourself and your community
Attitude – come prepared to give your best effort
Tenacity –persevere despite challenges
Grit – dig deep and take charge of your success.
Street sees incredible opportunity based on the success PSA has had thus far and based on what she knows to be true having been a student-athlete herself. “So when I started the academy with Dan and Michelle it was really honestly...people who are doing the same thing I did - so I look at the racers,” Street said. “I look at all of the 200 athletes that are under the umbrella of U.S. Ski & Snowboard and - you know - half or more are still in high school. In order for this year-round sport to not completely wash out their opportunity for an education, it’s going to need to be a super flexible model and available all the time. We’ve done that, in a competitive, encouraging, and inspiring environment, which puts the athlete’s needs first.”
What’s next? Street is working to collaborate further with U.S. Ski & Snowboard to offer middle and high school solutions to athletes who have made the Team. Street will continue to make it a priority to raise scholarship dollars so PSA can help get kids a solid education foundation they can build on in future years. She is looking at further integrating her Street of Dreams Foundation to raise scholarship dollars. “The number one thing that I want these student-athletes to understand is that I get it. I feel your growing pains. I feel your desire to get a good education. I feel your economic status and the potential crunches in that zone.” After all, it’s a street she’s been down herself.