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Kildow's glow goes far beyond medals

The children were waiting near the exit. Not for the winner of gold, but for the woman who won our hearts.

They stopped Lindsey Kildow on her way off the mountain and wrapped their arms around her as a picture was taken. It was sweet, and it was moving.

Above all, it was fitting.

She will not likely win a medal in these Games, but Kildow has earned a legacy. She is the one who taught us about dignity. She showed us courage and reminded us that you never know where the Olympic spirit will be found.

"I think, when she looks back, she will realize this was a remarkable time in her life," Kildow's mother, Linda Krohn, said as she watched the children crowd into the picture next to her daughter. "She went through so much, and she persevered. That, in itself, is a victory."

By now, most of us have seen footage of Kildow's gut-clenching crash in a training run last week. It was so horrifying, skiers at the bottom of the mountain turned their heads when it appeared on the scoreboard screen.

Kildow's boyfriend, former U.S. team member Thomas Vonn, saw the crash on television in his room. He frantically called the course and was told Kildow had a massive head injury. Later, someone said there were signs of paralysis.

Vonn prepared to leave for the hospital, but packed his luggage first. He assumed they would soon be flying back to the States for surgery.

Krohn was en route from her Minneapolis home and had no idea what had happened. When a U.S. official finally reached her, the first thing she was told was that Lindsey had not lost consciousness. Lost consciousness? From what?

At the hospital, a doctor told Kildow that she had remarkably avoided broken bones or torn ligaments. He also said her Olympics were over.

Yet, two days later, Kildow was back.

She was full of anti-inflammatories and could hardly move without pain. Yet she flew out of the starting gate and finished eighth in the downhill.

"Not racing wasn't an option," Kildow said. "As long as I knew I wasn't going to hurt myself, rip up my knee or something, I was going to do it. The pain I could handle."

Two days after that, Kildow crashed again in the combined. By all rights, she should have walked away. She could have had a tearful news conference and waited for someone to hand her a hanky.

But she was back again Monday, flying down the slopes in the super-G and finishing seventh, .36 of a second away from a medal.

"It guess it's what God wanted," Kildow said. "I thought my destiny was going to be here, but apparently, Italy just isn't my place."

She still has bruises on her hip and rear end. She has fluid buildup in the small of her back that will probably need to be drained with a needle.

She has trouble sleeping at night, and it's painful for her to stay in the tuck position when she skis.

And not once did she use her injuries as an excuse. She said she skied about as good as she possibly could on Monday.

When she reached the bottom of the slope Monday, she shrugged and turned her palms upward in a what-are-you-going-to-do gesture.

So maybe she didn't top the Austrian, but she beat the heck out of fear. And perhaps she did not go as fast as the Croatian, but she conquered pain.

Others have climbed podiums, but none have stood taller than Kildow.

"She's such a good kid and has such a big heart," Krohn said. "I've always known it, but now the world knows it, too."

She is what you want to believe of Olympians: that their hearts are somehow larger and their dreams more pure than yours or mine.

In an Olympics that has failed to produce a breakout star, Kildow may be the image worth taking away.

Years from now, you probably will not recall the name of the first snowboard cross champion. The medals for speed skaters will blend together.

But Lindsey Kildow? Ah, yes.

She was the one who kept crashing. And kept getting up.

"I didn't work my whole life to say, "Maybe next time,' " Kildow said.

By this point, the odds of another crash are probably greater than the chance of winning a medal.

She plans on competing in the final two Alpine events but says she is a long shot at best. Still, she will return to the mountain. She will look down at a slope that battered but could not break her.

And each time she competes, the videotape of her first crash will likely make another appearance.

That five seconds of tape has made her famous.

But it is the aftermath that has made Kildow unforgettable.