She might be a mother, but Sarah Schleper has a wild side. Anyone who’s heard her belt out her crazy roar at the start gate can attest to that … or anyone who witnessed her launching down her final World Cup course in Lienz, Austria on Dec. 29, 2011, wearing a sparkly gold cocktail dress instead of a race suit.
Then again, she toyed with the idea of wearing a bikini … or going topless.
At the age of 32, after racing on the World Cup for 15 years (including four podiums and one win), competing in four Winter Olympics and five world championships, the Vail, Colorado native is retiring.
“It just feels like it’s time,” Schleper said after her memorable run in her finery, during which she stopped halfway down the course to gather up her young son Lasse (4 years old in January) before continuing to hit the remaining gates with him in tow while the Star Wars theme song played on the loudspeaker.
“I’ve had so many good times, but I want to give Lasse my full attention and he’s at an age now where it’s hard to do that when we’re traveling and competing every weekend,” she said.
It’s possible that Schlep (as many people know her) has more friends than anyone on the World Cup. After she crossed the finish line in her gold dress in Lienz, she was swarmed by teammates, technicians and coaches. Athletes from every country pooled together to wish her well in a video that was aired on the big screen in the middle of the race. After Marlies Schild won, she turned away from a live TV interview after the race to give Schleper a hug and congratulate her on her career.
But nobody will miss Schleper like her U.S. Teammates. Even if she hazed Lindsey Vonn at one point when Vonn (then Kildow) was but a wee rookie, Vonn was among those mobbing Schleper at the finish and is struck by joyful nostalgia when looking back on their memorable times together. During her press conference after landing her first World Cup podium, Mikaela Shiffrin talked about the irony of that happening on the day Schleper retired and pointed out what an inspiration Schleper has been … how she knows several high school aged girls who try to imitate Schleper’s roar in the start house.
Schleper admits that this early point in the season is an “awkward” time to retire, but Lienz is a meaningful place for her. She recalls her first race here in 1997 when she didn’t qualify for the second run and wandered into a local church to think things over. She recalls her several great results here, including a fifth place in 2009, her best result after becoming a mother two years prior.
She isn’t quite sure what her future holds now, but Schleper plans to stay in Europe for the rest of the season and ski with Lasse and her husband Federico. Then the family will move back to the Vail area and perhaps expand.
WATCH A VIDEO OF U.S. TEAMMATES SHARING STORIES ABOUT SCHLEPER (like the time she made Lindsey Vonn ride a wild horse).
By Shauna Farnell