Chloe Kim Gets Candid About Her "Never-Ending" Mental Health Journey

chloe kim mental health
Photo Illustration by Aly Lim
Photo Illustration by Aly Lim

At 24 years old, Chloe Kim is arguably the best woman snowboarder of all time. Kim, a second-generation Korean American, has been snowboarding since she was 4, and at just 17, she became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. But a life consumed with competitive sport can take a toll on one's mental health.

In 2022, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made the decision to step back from snowboarding to focus on her mental health and attend college. She returned from her hiatus in January 2024, where she, of course, made women's half-pipe history once again. But more importantly, she competed with a renewed mindset and appreciation for the sport.

For APIA Heritage Month, Kim got candid about her Korean American upbringing, her "never-ending" mental health journey, and how she hopes her vulnerability inspires a new generation of APIA athletes. Read it all, in her own words, below. And read more mental health journeys from APIA perspectives here.

A lot of my traveling for snowboarding in the beginning was with my dad. My mom was always such a good sounding board, but I always had a harder time talking about my feelings with my dad. He would always ask me if I was hungry or if I wanted to go on a drive, but never really talk. I definitely always got the bowl of cut fruit. I think that's something Koreans, even Asian Americans, always have in common. Talking about feelings almost feels like a language barrier in itself.

Therapy wasn't really a thing in Korea, especially then, so it was probably still new for my parents when they came to the States. I remember I had friends who were in therapy for a variety of reasons, and I was always envious that they had access. My parents would have never not let me go to therapy, but it was never suggested. They just didn't know any better. (Now, they're all for it.)

My parents wanted me to go to the Olympics and supported me in a sport that's not necessarily popular amongst the Korean population. They were OK with me sacrificing time from school or not putting me through AP classes so I could get into the best university and be a doctor or a lawyer. They wanted me to be exceptional in my own way. I was really blessed with that.

So when my mental health would have been at its worst, that was never a conversation I had. I just went about being sad, having a bad day, and I didn't seek help until the COVID year.

In 2020, I went through a severe depression period. Obviously, with COVID, it was incredibly difficult not being able to socialize and [dealing with] all of the fear and anxiety surrounding it, in every way, shape, and form. I knew that it was time because of everything I'd been feeling, so I reached out to my team and asked them to help me find somebody. I preferred somebody that was an athlete of some sort in the past, not even at a professional level, and somebody of color, somebody Asian. I wanted somebody that could just understand a fraction of what I might be experiencing.

Therapy brought me so much sanity because for the first time I felt like everything I was feeling had a reason, and that it was valid.

Therapy brought me so much sanity because for the first time I felt like everything I was feeling had a reason, and that it was valid. I always knew my feelings were valid — my mom did such a great job — but I think I needed an explanation as to why I was feeling that way.

After the Pyeongchang Olympics, I competed for one more season and then decided to take the year off to go to school. I went with my intuition, and what I was craving the most was trying to find a sense of normalcy in my life. I was pulled out of school when I was 12 and switched to homeschooling, and ever since that shift, all my friends were pretty much snowboarders. Everything in my life was about snowboarding — I'd been snowboarding for 20 years and at a high level for 11. As I got older, I found myself constantly stressed. All I could think about was snowboarding. I was seeing other friends in the sport who seemed like they had so much more joy in their lives because they were living a normal life, where they weren't training 24/7 and they were going on vacations. I didn't have that.

ASPEN, COLORADO - JANUARY 26:  Chloe Kim of the USA competes in the Monster Energy Women's Snowboard SuperPipe Final on day 1 of the X Games Aspen 2024 on January 26, 2024 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty | Jamie Squire

I went to college for a year and that was the most incredible experience. I felt so revived after that. Now, I definitely have a different approach that makes me more excited about snowboarding. I'm so grateful that I get to do something that I love. Most of the time, when I'm on snow to train, it feels like work. I'm running myself into the ground. It comes with a lot of joy when I learn the new tricks or I land the run that I dreamed of landing, yes, but there are so many more bad days than good ones. And if we keep adding up those bad days over the span of 10, 20 years, it's overwhelming.

The biggest shift that I've seen help me is reestablishing this relationship that I have with snowboarding. The hardcore training, that's all I knew for so long. I was a robot. I'm trying to find ways that snowboarding makes me happy — going up on the mountain for powder runs, having fun, cruising with my friends, and not going near the half-pipe.

Now, I'm doing things to just enjoy my environment. I've been proactive about having a piece of home on these long trips, even if it's my parents coming with me, or me reading books that I love, or doing my new skin-care routine that really excites me, or trying different outfits that make me happy.

I'm excited anytime I have these really hard moments in my life because I come out of them with so much more knowledge, wisdom, and grace, and I can look back and be proud of myself. I'm proud that I was able to overcome those dark times.

I want to be honest and say that, no matter what, we're always going to experience obstacles with our mental health.

I want to be honest and say that no matter what, we're always going to experience obstacles with our mental health. Mental health is a never-ending journey. There's always going to be challenges that come your way and moments where you're faced with difficulty. I think it's important to be gentle with yourself, be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to be human and not feel pressured to be perfect all the time. Society expects us to be perfect all the time, but we're the most imperfect beings, and that's what makes us unique. The lessons that we learn from these moments are what make us who we are. And that's a gift in itself.

There's so much more that I want to do in snowboarding than just win. In my most recent contest season, I only won one contest out of the three. That's the first time that's happened to me in my entire career. But I'm really grateful because I realized that it isn't about being first. I realized that there's so much more that I want to do. Because for a really long time, even though I was winning, I didn't feel anything. It just felt like another day at the office. I want to make history with my snowboarding. I want to try these runs that have never been done before, with tricks that have never been done before.

Growing up, I wished there were more faces like mine, like another Asian American woman that I could look up to and follow, and feel like I was seen and heard and my feelings were valid and I'm doing the best that I can. I'm sure there were a lot of Asian faces out there, but I felt like I wasn't exposed to them. I've been so blessed to be given a platform and it's important for me to make the most out of it. Especially looking at our next generation, someone else is going to take over and be the new face of women's half-pipe snowboarding. I want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can so they feel ready for that responsibility. And to be able to achieve that, I need to be as open and vulnerable as possible.

— As told to Yerin Kim

Yerin Kim is the features editor at POPSUGAR, where she helps shape the vision for special features and packages across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women's lifestyle spaces. She's passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment, and style.