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A gold medalist in life, too: Olympic champion, cancer fighter Kikkan Randall shares her experiences

  • Lucy Gaughan, 5, of Norwich, Vt., holds Kikkan Randall's gold medal from the 2018 Winter Olympics as, from left, Lena Scavone, 7, also of Norwich, Gaughan's sister Sally, 8, and Estelle Kipp, 5, of New London, N.H., watch during Randall's visit at Omer and Bob's in Lebanon, N.H., on March 21, 2019. Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, was diagnosed with breast cancer less than three months after winning the gold in nordic skiing in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Winter Olympian Kikkan Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, gives encouragement to members of the Lebanon High School nordic ski team, including Madeline Wolfe, of Grantham, N.H., left, Celia Barnett, of Plainfield, N.H., and Ana Goodwin, of Lebanon, N.H., during Randall's visit to Omer and Bob's in Lebanon, N.H., on March 21, 2019. Randall was diagnosed with breast cancer less than three months after winning the gold in nordic skiing in the 2018 games. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kikkan Randall's gold medal from the 2018 Winter Olympics rests on photographs Randall is to sign and hand out at Omer and Bob's in Lebanon, N.H., on March 21, 2019. Randall and teammate Jessie Diggins became the first American nordic skiers to win a gold medal in the women's team sprint race. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Winter Olympian Kikkan Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, signs a photo for Miriam Horowitz, of Norwich, Vt., and her daughter Lena Scavone, 7, during Randall's appearance at Omer and Bob's in Lebanon, N.H., on March 21, 2019. Randall was the only mother on the U.S. Olympic team at the 2018 Winter Games where she and Jessie Diggins became the first American nordic skiers to win a gold medal. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/21/2019 10:08:20 PM
Modified: 3/22/2019 11:23:40 AM

LEBANON — The notion of a 10-year plan for success may be daunting to a 19-year-old. But Kikkan Randall came to understand that she could reach her Olympic goals by breaking the big target into smaller ones, gaining confidence with each little success.

Now 36, a mother and a gold medal-winner, Randall has turned to the same process to navigate through her latest challenge.

Barely two months after sharing a cross country skiing team sprint gold medal with U.S. teammate Jessie Diggins, the first by any American, at last year’s Pyeongchang Games, Randall — the sport’s American standard bearer for nearly 20 years — was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she did with her racing career, Randall has taken to the challenge energetically and publicly.

“In a way, definitely there were some silver linings,” Randall said after spending more than two hours on Thursday telling her story, signing autographs and sharing greetings with more than 100 visitors to Omer and Bob’s Sportshop on the Lebanon mall.

“It was really overwhelming once I retired, with the gold medal happening right at the end there. I was getting a lot of requests to do a lot of different things. I could have easily been overwhelmed with everything. It kind of let me be able to put the pause button on it; when you’re confronted with something as daunting as cancer, it makes you realize like, OK, if I don’t have unlimited time here, what do I really want to spend my time on?”

It’s still quite a list.

Randall was in the area to rep for Fischer, her career-long ski supplier, while heading north for the FIS Nordic World Cup Finals, which begin on Thursday in Quebec City. After that, she joins Diggins in New York next week for the Today show to promote next year’s World Cup finale in Minneapolis; reunites with her husband, Jeff, and 4-year-old son, Breck, for a short family vacation in Las Vegas; heads home to Alaska to speak with the American Cancer Society; and bounces back to the Upper Valley for an intensive two-week business course at Dartmouth College.

“I’ve been able to refocus a little bit,” Randall said. “I still got excited when I got done with treatment and maybe got myself involved in a lot of things again. But it’s been actually been helpful in the transition to have some time to really reflect.

“I just get so excited with these kinds of passion projects. I don’t seem to be able to settle on one thing. I keep coming up with ideas and get creative, bring people together and keep my connection with the sport. There hasn’t been much of a dull moment.”

Randall didn’t connect with Nordic skiing until her high school years in Anchorage, and then only after her high school running coach left town. Needing another group with which to train, she joined the skiers and found her long-term competitive passion.

Qualifying for the Salt Lake City games in 2002 as a teenager confirmed for Randall her desire to raise the country’s level of success in Nordic skiing, a sport dominated by northern and eastern Europeans. She and her coaches catalogued what Randall would need to do to eventually win gold.

“After we added it all up, we had a 10-year plan,” Randall said, drawing laughter. “At 19 years old, 10 years is a little intimidating.”

It ultimately worked, only it took a little longer than anticipated.

Randall won three straight FIS World Cup season sprint titles, in 2012, ’13 and ’14. From 2006 through Pyeongchang, She posted 13 FIS race wins, all in freestyle sprints, and 29 total World Cup podiums. She also teamed up with Diggins for a team freestyle sprint win at Quebec City in 2012.

Olympic success finally came Randall’s way in her fifth Olympics and her 18th and final race. Alternating shifts with Diggins in a six-segment sprint race, the duo edged Norwegian and Swedish rivals for gold, giving Randall a medal she readily shared with Thursday’s throng.

The Omer and Bob’s crowd proved to be predominantly young and female. The bulk of Lebanon High School’s cross country ski team visited, resulting in a brief group chat with Randall.

“It’s really interesting to meet someone a lot of us have looked up to,” said Lebanon junior Madeline Wolfe, who took up Nordic skiing only in the past year. “She really resonated having fun with the sport and the team aspect, which I thought was really cool, to have a good team vibe going. It’s interesting hearing her say how important that is, even at such a high level.”

Omer and Bob’s co-owner Breck Taber witnessed the reaction to Randall both as a businessman and as a father. His daughters, Kayla and Ashlyn, both stopped by; Ashlyn skis for the Raiders as well.

“At the high school age, the cellphone likes to take over at times,” Taber said. “I didn’t see any cellphone use, which was good. They were paying close attention.”

Randall is still growing her hair back after shaving it during her four months of chemotherapy. It’s not long enough yet for her to give it the streak of pink that’s been her source of identification.

All good things in time. She’s giving her attention right now to two charities, one to keep young girls active, the other supporting the fight against cancer.

She’s also still figuring out her post-race future. She’ll break that down to smaller goals and reach them, just as she’s done twice before.

“My life has been determined in Olympic quadrennials for a while now,” she admitted. “It’s a little less clearly defined than it was with skiing, but it’s also an exciting new frontier.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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