Kenan Smith, who until recently was an assistant wide receivers coach with the Los Angeles Rams, has helped Vonn lately as she fights through a series of injuries.
“Definitely the injuries are very relatable — just feeling stiff and hurting is very relatable,” Vonn said Sunday after finishing 12th in a World Cup super-G. “In football they get hit all the time.”
He had to help out as a bodyguard when Vonn — the most successful female skier of all time with 77 victories — waded through the crowd as she exited the athletes’ area and hundreds of fans sought her autograph.
“Here everyone is right on top of you. In the NFL we’re separated, we’re on the field and there’s boundaries there,” Smith said as he took in the majestic scene of jagged mountain peaks all around him in the resort known as the “queen” of the Dolomites Range.
“She’s got to walk out through people. We never have to do that,” Smith added. “It’s different. But she can handle it.”
Tiger Woods, Vonn’s former boyfriend, concealed his face behind a mask when he surprised the skier by showing up in Cortina unannounced two years ago. Smith was decidedly more low profile.
He’s amazed at how light and flimsy skiers’ helmets are — even though racers reach speeds beyond 120 kph (75 mph).
“When they fall one time they’re done with it,” Smith said. “We wear one (helmet) the whole year. So it’s a little different. There’s not much padding in there so I’m shocked.”
Vonn recently returned to racing after nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries. She avoided more serious injuries when she crashed on the downhill course Friday and Saturday.
Having come to Italy expecting to see Vonn add to her win total, Smith instead provided moral support.
“It’s one of those things, unfortunately it happens but she’s strong enough that she can bounce back from it,” he said.
While Vonn recently taught Smith to ski, he still knows little about the sport.
“It’s really cute. He’s trying. He’s like, ‘Whenever there’s snow flying that means that it’s not fast.’ So he’s learning, slowly,” Vonn said. “But I’m learning about football, too. I know football but there’s a lot of intricacies that I don’t understand.”
Smith was a two-sport star at Sacramento State from 1999 to 2003, where he was an all-conference wide receiver and a sprinter on the track team. He spent three seasons in the Rams’ staff.
Vonn resides in Vail, Colorado and is a Denver Broncos fan.
“I think Denver is out. They already hired everyone, unfortunately,” Vonn said. “But he’s got some good options. We’ll see after the Super Bowl when they kind of make more moves.”
Smith’s agent is talking to some other teams.
“We’ll see what happens when I get back to the United States,” Smith said.
For now, Smith is trading the NFL for the ski tour, known as the “white circus.”
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf