Olympic cross country skier Kikkan Randall has had numerous female role models throughout her life. From her aunt Betsy Haines, who preceded Randall in the sport, to her current competitors like Marit Bjoergen. But the athlete, known for her bright pink hair as she traverses the course, has long been a role model herself — and now that she’s a gold medalist, she’s certainly cemented that status.
Attending her fifth, and likely last, Winter Olympics, Randall maintains a humbling mentality when it comes to her sport. Although she’s been training and competing professionally for nearly two decades, she has the fervor of a newcomer combined with the insight of a true champion. Her energy strikes me throughout our conversation, and seems to do the same for her teammates as they travel and train. When it comes down to it, however, it’s evident that her morale is that of a new mom.
After welcoming her son Breck back in April 2016, Randall and her husband Jeff Ellis have embraced a third traveling buddy. In the midst of her first time going through Olympic training with the little one, Randall couldn’t speak more highly about her son’s positive influence on her.
“Because I’ve been doing this career almost twenty years, and coming back to the same places over and over and over, he’s really just kind of revived my passion for everything,” Randall expresses to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Everywhere we go now, I look for playgrounds and I look for the fun sledding hill, and it’s just been so fun. But what’s the most important thing is that when I go out on the trail, whether I win or lose, I get to come home to a smiling little boy that’s happy to see me either way.”
But for the 35-year-old who holds some of the highest titles in her sport, it’s never really been all about winning. Instead, Randall reflects more on the journey that the entirety of her career represents.
“Between my first Olympics in 2002, really until about 2010, I wasn’t making drastic improvements,” she says. “I was making small gains, and I had believed deep down that I would reach that top level. But all that support behind me just kept me working and getting through the highs and the lows, until I started to break through.”
This happened, in part, thanks to her support system that has consisted of her Olympic aunt, her parents Deborah and Ronn Randall, and her husband. Unique to cross-country skiing, she’s also gained unprecedented support from her sport, and the men and women who compete amongst her.
Dissimilar from the majority of other team sports, cross-country skiing provides both male and female athletes with the same pay, same media coverage, same sponsorship opportunities, and even the same traveling circuit, which ensures that all athletes maintain the same opportunities to truly be the best at their skill.
“It’s a really healthy mix in terms of the fact that I’ve never felt like second fiddle,” Randall explains. “I’ve always felt like I could achieve whatever I set my mind to, and we can as a team.”
Randall’s outlook on gender equality is impassioned by the fairness that exists in her sport today. But it’s highly influenced by the fact that she’s experienced the evolution of equality in cross-country skiing, after starting as the only woman on the team.
“I’ve been on the team when I’ve been the only woman, and the guys were more dominant,” she reflects. “They were just a little bit older, more successful. And then to see the women’s program really come around and now kind of be the dominant force on the team — it’s been really cool to see that come full circle.”
During her upbringing, the athlete says that she was fortunate enough to be raised in a family that established an environment where equality was the norm. So when it came to athletic ability, or anything else for that matter, she never doubted what she could do or how far she would go. For Breck, she plans to mimic this, creating a space where treating women and men as equals — no matter the political climate — is “not so much of a special thing, it’s just the way it is.” This mission also carries into an organization that Randall leads, appropriately called Fast and Female.
“Fast and Female is about inspiring girls to stay involved in sports. And a big part of what we’re trying to do is change the culture around participation for girls,” Randall says, while explaining that it’s important to consider boys throughout this process as well. “Encouraging more women to go into leadership roles and to help teach the fathers and brothers and teammates of the male side along the way about what the best solution is for everybody to work together.”
Having always had support from her Olympic uncle Chris Haines and her father, Randall expresses the importance of teaching other men to be the same way for all women. And her son is no exception.
As for the pink hair that’s made her so recognizable, it’s safe to say that it’s become an all-encompassing part of Randall’s identity.
“You could be a girl, and you could be fast and you could be strong, and you could have fun, and we can celebrate it,” she says. “And so the pink has just kind of become this fun identity for me to just promote the benefits of being healthy and active, and going for things and being a girl, and celebrating it.”
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