Driven to honor father, freestyle skier sets sights on Olympics

China 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Winter Vinecki is a world-class athlete with a deeply personal motivation.

“I think … a lot of what pushes me to keep trying new things and trying to do the best that I can at these things is losing my dad at such a young age,” Vinecki said.

Her father Michael was diagnosed with a rare form of prostate cancer when she was 8. He died 10 months later.

“He had so many dreams and so many things that he wanted to do but was waiting till he was a little bit older, till us kids were older, to do these things, and never got the chance,” Vinecki said. “And so I just really want to live each day to the fullest and really see what I’m capable of.”

It became apparent very early that she would be capable of amazing things. Vinecki, from Gaylord, Michigan, rank her first 5K at age 5. Ten years later, she became the youngest person in the world to run marathons on all seven continents.

But her feats are more than just physical. Inspired by her father, she launched Team Winter, a nonprofit that raises money through sports to combat prostate cancer.

“The day he was diagnosed, I knew wanted to do something to help him and all the men affected by prostate cancer because there was not much awareness for it,” she said.

She has also toured the country giving TED Talks about her mission.

When she wasn’t giving speeches, she was competing in marathons and triathlons. She thought that was her path to the Olympics — until three-time Olympian Emily Cook introduced her to freestyle skiing.

“I went that next summer to Park City (Utah) to try it out in the pool,” she recalled. “Did my first backflips into the pool and just absolutely loved it.”

She proved a quick study and was in contention to head to the 2018 Olympics. That goal was stopped its tracks by a torn ACL.

“It was pretty heartbreaking,” Vinecki said.

Not one to back down from a challenge, she healed and continued to train and improve. Early this year, she won a gold medal in Moscow, her first career podium.

Now, she’s in position to make her first Olympic team.

The Beijing Games begin Feb. 4.

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