Q&A: In documentary, skier Kikkan Randall opens up and hopes to inspire others

Months after winning a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Alaska cross-country skier Kikkan Randall was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her friend, Alaska photographer Charlie Renfro, documented Randall’s diagnosis and recovery. Those images and videos seeded a new documentary about Randall’s life and career, from mountaintop highs to cavernous lows.

The 46-minute film “Kikkan,” which was shown in limited release at screenings earlier this year, was released widely on her YouTube channel Friday in coordination with International Women’s Day.

“I hope that everybody sees a little bit of themselves in the story,” Randall said. “I hope it gives them some gratitude for their own chapters and also reminds everybody that no matter what we’re going after or what we’re going through, we all kind of have this internal strength that we can harness.”

The project didn’t take off until the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel in 2020. Randall was living in Penticton, British Columbia, and befriended neighbor Matt Clark, a filmmaker. With both unable to travel for work, they brainstormed ideas, including one that turned into a video series that focused on her skiing and was sponsored by Fischer Sports.

But they agreed there was a larger story to tell that incorporated Renfro’s work and the input of dozens of other friends and family members vital to her journey.

The film includes plenty of career highlights and motivational moments, but also some raw scenes, including the cancer fight and the sudden dissolution of her marriage. Randall returned to her hometown of Anchorage and in 2021 was named executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage.


“I really tried to be an open book and let the experience be very real,” Randall said. “In doing so I had to go back and uncover some moments in my life that have been challenging and hard and are emotional. But I think that’s where sometimes you can have the biggest impact. With every high, there were lows to overcome.”

Produced by Stirl and Rae Media Haus, “Kikkan” was presented by Fischer Skis US, L.L. Bean, and Providence Alaska.

The film was screened at a variety of locations in the past six weeks, including for crowds at the World Cup Nordic Ski event in Minnesota and at the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. The Bear Tooth Theatrepub in Anchorage has also hosted a pair of sold-out showings over the past couple of weeks.

All of the early screenings have been fundraisers for local ski organizations or cancer organizations, and often both. Randall said the Bear Tooth showings raised over $20,000.

We asked Randall about the process of producing the documentary and what she learned looking back on her life and career. (The following has been edited for length and clarity.)

ADN: What’s it been like to look back through your life and reflect on some of those major events?

Randall: It’s a process I’ve been really grateful for because so often we do live our life day-by-day, and you don’t get a chance to stop and reflect. So through the preparation for the film, really going through my mind and (considering) who the people that were important and what were the moments that were pivotal and those kinds of things was just a really cool exercise. ... Then to see the film unveiled and to see everybody’s interviews and see it all come together, it’s been a kind of emotional overwhelming experience. I had a lot of gratitude before, but it just made me really appreciate all the people in my life and the moments that I’ve had and be so grateful for my health where I’m at today.

ADN: What has the response been from people who aren’t as familiar with your story?

Randall: We did target some Nordic-friendly areas (for early screenings). I’m sure there have been some friends who have been dragged to the premiere and didn’t know anything about me and some people that knew some of the highlights, but they didn’t know a lot about my upbringing, or some of the lower points or what it was really like. People have said they really appreciated getting to hear more of the real story.

ADN: What has it been like for you to watch the American World Cup teams thrive this year, including some former teammates and some young skiers who you paved the way for?

Randall: I feel like a proud parent or a big sister. And stopping to go back and reflect on those early moments of my career and to know where U.S. skiing was then, and where it is now — to see the success that the athletes are having today and to see it thriving here in Anchorage across the country — it just makes me really proud. It’s nice to remember some of those moments where it seemed hopeless at points and it was a lot of grit and hard work. But it’s all made it worth it because it didn’t just end with my ski career.

[Alaskan Gus Schumacher’s World Cup win after two tough years shows world-class talent is ‘still in there’]

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.