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Olympic Gold Medalist Kikkan Randall Takes On Birkie, Inspires Girls To Pursue Sports

Randall Won Gold Medal At 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

Kikkan Randall
Kikkan Randall competing during a cross country women’s World Cup sprint qualification in Italy in 2014. Elvis Piazzi/AP Photo

Olympic Gold Medalist Kikkan Randall is in Hayward this weekend to take on North America’s largest cross-country ski race and encourage young girls to pursue sports.

The five-time Olympian is excited, and a little anxious, to take on her first American Birkebeiner challenge.

“From the moment you step into Hayward you can feel the energy here,” she said. “Everybody’s almost giddy with excitement, maybe a little anxiousness, as well … 50K is no joke.”

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Almost exactly one year ago, Randall and her teammate Jessie Diggins did what no other American women have done — they won a gold medal in cross-country skiing in the women’s team sprint at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“I knew it was going to be my last Olympic race so I came into it just with the the best mindset, so excited to lay it down one more time … and the day unfolded just about as well as it could have possibly gone,” she said.

Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins at the World Cup in Italy, 2012. Antonio Calanni/AP Photo

But what has been more incredible to Randall is the effect the medal has had on the cross-country skiing community and young skiers.

Inspiring young skiers, particularly girls, is important to Randall. She leads the U.S. chapter of Fast and Female, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 with a mission to keep girls active and excited about sports.

Girls drop out of sports at a rate six times higher than boys and one of the main drivers is social pressure, according to a study by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.

We want to empower every girl to stay in sports because we know it will be really important for her health and for her confidence,” Randall said.

On Sunday, Randall will lead a chat, along with skiing, games and fitness activities, for girls ages 8 to 18 at the Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center near Seeley.

“We’ll be sharing some of our inspirational stories about how we’ve gone on to win gold medals, but also how we’ve overcome some challenges along the way,” she said.

Last May, Randall was diagnosed with cancer. The skills Randall gained as a competitive skier were instrumental in helping her through her diagnosis that came just three months after winning the gold medal.

“There were a lot of emotions … disbelief at first, frustration for having done all the right things and yet still was facing this challenge,” she said.

“But I quickly realized that all the experience I’ve gained through my athletic career was going to really suit me well through this next challenge,” she continued. “And I’ve brought just energy and determination and staying active to this as I progressed through treatment.”

Randall is currently working on a documentary project and hopes what she has learned from five Olympics, to being a mom and battling cancer will inspire and give strength to others.

As for the Birkebeiner this weekend, Randall plans to take it kilometer by kilometer.

“I’m definitely relying on all the skills I’ve built up over my career,” she said. “I’m a little nervous about making it all the way to the finish with good energy, so I’m going to break it down and just take it kilometer by kilometer.”

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