Mikaela Shiffrin developed into one of the most impressive skiers in the world thanks in part to hard work, but Mikaela has also benefited from a team of people who have helped her succeed. Mikaela credits her mother, Eileen Shiffrin, for her dedication, and traveling with her daughter to help her perform at her best.
“I have a team around me, my physio, coaches, my mum, serviceman — all have very selfless personalities, all seem to be very much motivated to help me succeed and work towards my goals without an ulterior motive,” Mikaela told CNN.
It is no accident that Mikaela has a chance to take home multiple medals at the 2018 Olympics. Eileen along with her husband, Jeff Shiffrin, developed a training regimen for their two children, and the training seems to have worked. Mikaela’s brother Taylor skied at the University of Denver on two national title teams before pursing other business interests. Mikaela became the youngest Olympian ever to win a gold medal in slalom. Eileen’s presence on the slopes has not always been well-received by other coaches, but it has been effective.
“You have to have a couple of coaches who don’t have huge egos, who aren’t territorial and all alpha-male macho about it,” Eileen explained to The New Yorker.
Learn more about Mikaela’s coach, mother and best friend.
1. Eileen Studied Nursing at the University of New Hampshire, But Was Not Allowed to Ski Collegiately
Eileen is originally from Lanesborough, Massachusetts then went to college at the University of New Hampshire. She learned to ski when she was three, and her family was a regular at area ski clubs. According to The New Yorker, the family volunteered at Mount Greylock Ski Club where they would help clear off trees and brush. Eileen skied in high school, but it was not the obsession it later became.
“I got good results, but had little formal training and didn’t take it seriously,” Eileen told The New Yorker. “For me, it was totally social.”
At the University of New Hampshire, she was not permitted to ski while studying nursing, but picked the sport back up when she met her husband Jeff.
2. Mikaela’s Parents Skied Competitively on an Adult Circuit After Meeting While Working Together at St. Elizabeth Hospital Outside Boston
According to The New Yorker, Eileen finished college, and went to work in the I.C.U. at St. Elizabeth Hospital located outside of Boston. While working there, Eileen met an anesthesiologist from New Jersey who just happened to enjoy skiing as well. Jeff opened Eileen up to a whole new world by introducing her to Masters racing, a skiing circuit for adults. After first being reluctant to go, Eileen fell in love with the competition, and The New Yorker detailed her newfound dedication to skiing.
Eileen, a meticulous and studious woman, was soon obsessed. She pored over videos of World Cup champions, read everything she could about the art of carving a turn, and mastered the methodical process of tuning skis. ‘I learned as much as a lot of the racers had in their ski-academy days,’ she said. Before long, she was winning national and international Masters championships. Jeff liked to tell her that she could probably walk on to the national team. ‘Hey, she might have been an Olympic skier,’ Jeff told me.
In a sport where the top competitors are often still in high school, it was not in the cards for Eileen to become a professional skier. What she learned is that if she had a bit of a head start, it could have changed things, and this revelation impacted the way she raised Mikaela.
3. Eileen & Jeff Started Training Their Kids to Ski at a Young Age
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One of Eileen’s biggest regrets was waiting too late to begin seriously training. The couple made sure to do things differently with Taylor and Mikaela. They began training both at a young age, sometimes in very unorthodox ways like the time Eileen purchased a unicycle for her kids to work on their balance.
“She thinks it’s so normal,” Mikaela told Time. “No. People don’t do that, Mom. I get on the unicycle, and people are like,‘That’s incredible.’We were a very strange family.”
Eileen now travels with Mikaela as both her coach and mother. Sometimes it can be difficult for Mikaela to understand which role Eileen is playing when she is talking to her.
“If she’s talking to me as my coach and I’m listening to her as her daughter, that’s one of the most heartbreaking, painful things,” Mikaela told Time. “Those conversations can be terrible. Just because she might be hard on me on the slopes, which I ask her to be, because that’s the only way I can keep improving, doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me as a mom. I’m starting to really grasp that. And it’s awesome.”
4. Mikaela Enjoys Binge Watching Shows Like Madam Secretary & Blue Bloods With Her Mother
Mikaela puts in the time to get better on the slopes, but she enjoys binge watching shows with her mother in the rare moments when she is not training. According to Outside, two of their favorites to watch are Madam Secretary and Blue Bloods. Eileen was also been known to pick up a text book, and study alongside Mikaela when her daughter was still in high school.
“Probably one of the factors that has made a difference between my career and anybody else is having her to keep me on track, to help me stay sane, to be my best friend, to be my mum, to be my coach,” Mikaela told CNN.
Eileen may be friends with her daughter, but she is not ready to give her the title of better athlete. Eileen spoke with Outside about how her skiing ability compared with her daughter.
“With skiing? I don’t know,” Eileen explained to Outside. “Mikaela says when she was 11 or 12—which is… no. But I don’t race against her. I never really compared or had that situation. I still ski pretty fast, faster than a lot of people are comfortable with me skiing. They are always like, ‘Why aren’t you wearing a helmet?’ So, I’m not sure.”
5. Eileen Loves Watching Film of Ski Runs
Part of the reason Mikaela has enjoyed success is the dedication her mother has put into helping her daughter perfect her craft. Mikaela’s former coach Brandon Dyksterhouse spoke with The New Yorker about Eileen’s dedication to watching film.
At times, Eileen is up early watching film, and tries to resist the urge to wake up her daughter to show her something she found on tape. The New Yorker details her dedication to film.
She texted Mikaela at all hours with observations from her sessions. Dyksterhouse remembers getting a text from Eileen at 5 a.m. the day before the 2015 World Championships, in Vail, saying that she had noticed something. She wanted to wake Mikaela up to show her. Dyksterhouse objected. (‘She knows better but she can’t help herself,’ one ski-team official told me.) On a few occasions, anticipating that Eileen might pick apart the footage from a day’s session, Dyksterhouse would speed the video up, just enough to elide certain flaws and perhaps shield Mikaela, or, more to the point, Dyksterhouse and his assistant, from an inquisition.