When it comes to sports culture, athletes will often engage in little traditions to encourage themselves during game time. This could come in the form of a lucky article of clothing, or perhaps a soothing moment of pre-game meditation. These little markers can help calm their minds in the middle of chaos and competition. If you've noticed the words scrawled on Lindsey Vonn's helmet, you've seen one such example.
At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, the iconic alpine skier has marked the letters "D.K." on the side of her helmet, next to a heart. They are written in black and frequently appear in close-up photos.
According to a report by NBC, those letters are more than just a reminder to stay focused. Reportedly, they are an homage to Vonn's grandfather. Don Kildow, of Milton, Wisconsin, died on Nov. 1, 2017. He was 88 years old.
As the PyeongChang Olympics grew close, Vonn frequently referenced her grandfather in interviews. Of particular relevance to the Games this year is that Kildow also had a connection to South Korea. He reportedly served in the Korean War from 1952-1954.
On Feb. 4, Vonn tweeted about her feelings surrounding her grandfather and her impending trip to the Olympics, writing, "I think about the loss of my Grandpa every day, but today I miss him more. I wish he was here with me. I wish he could watch me in the Olympics in S Korea where he served in the war. I just wish he was here. I want to make him proud."
The memory of her grandfather has soothed her nerves in PyeongChang, Vonn has told various media outlets. "I feel really good,” Vonn told USA Today on Friday. "Because it’s not really about me or my career. It’s about my grandfather. I’m just going to lay it all out there. I’m going to give it everything I have and whatever happens will happen."
Vonn enjoyed a very close relationship with her grandfather, as evidenced not just by how often he is a topic of conversation in interviews, but, of course, by her decision to mark his initials on her helmet. "I want so badly to do well for him and I miss him so much," she told USA Today in the same interview. "He’s been such a big part of my life. I really had hoped he would be alive to see me. I know he’s watching. I know that he’s going to help me."
The homage to her grandfather is not the only message Vonn has written to herself, hidden within the details of her Olympic uniform. She has also written a reminder to herself. That message appears on the thumb of her right glove. In Greek, the word "believe" sits right within eyeshot at all times.
According to NBC, this note functions are more of a morale boost. It reportedly matches a tattoo that the Olympian has inked on the inside of one of her fingers. "Signifying my last Olympics [in 2018] and just need to believe in myself," she told NBC's Nick Zaccardi in November of 2017.
Coming into PyeongChang, Vonn was both a fan favorite and a medal favorite. This was true for several reasons. For one, she is widely considered to be the most decorated female skier in the history of the sport. For two, her confidence and drive are incredibly inspiring for anyone who watches her.
And when she doesn't end up performing as well, she handles it well. Take, for example, this week. When Vonn failed to place at the Super-G, she took to Twitter to candidly express her reaction.
"Frustrating to be so close to the podium and to have made such a big mistake...but that’s ski racing," she tweeted on Saturday. "I’m proud of the way I skied and how I attacked the course. I gave it my all and came up short. That’s life. Now it’s on to the Downhill!"