Vonn's paternal grandfather passed away last month at the age of 88, and without him, the greatest female ski racer of all time may never have taken up the sport.
"If it wasn't for my grandfather I wouldn't be racing," Vonn told CNN's Alpine Edge
as she prepared for races this weekend in St Moritz, Switzerland.
"My grandfather taught my father how to ski. It's because of him that it is in our family. It was a huge loss to me and my family. I think about him all the time, especially when I'm racing. And I feel closer to him when I'm skiing."
Behind enemy lines
Vonn said her grandfather had been stationed in what was then called Korea, not far from where the alpine events will be taking place at the Winter Games, which start in February in South Korea.
"He was with the 10th Infantry of Engineers and he was over there building all the roads," she said.
"He was behind enemy lines a few times and was held at gun point. I was really hoping that he would make it and be able to come with me over there.
I had gone through the whole process of figuring out how to medically get him over there," she added. "But now I hope that I can win for him. Everyone in my family wants me to win for him. I hope I can make him proud."
Vonn is a former Olympic downhill champion and women's World Cup record holder with 77 victories, nine shy of the all-time record.
But she is perhaps best known for her resilience and ability to bounce back from setbacks, including overcoming three potentially career-ending injuries, one of which kept her sidelined during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
It's all down to her genes, according to Vonn.
"I think I have his work ethic," she said. "I feel like my adversities are nothing compared to what he went through.
"So I keep that in mind whenever I have a setback. It's really nothing. You figure it out, you get over it and keep working."
'Breaking down at the gym'
At times her rehabilitation from injury has been so intense this year that Vonn was reduced to tears because she was so exhausted.
"I had almost eight weeks where I was just at the gym. I didn't travel anywhere, I didn't do anything, I was pretty lame to be around.
"This summer was really important to make sure that I was as prepared as possible for this season. It's most likely my last Olympics so I don't want to have any regrets that I could have worked harder.
"I literally pushed my body to its limit. I worked as hard as I possibly could. To the point where I was breaking down at the gym. But it's all worth it if I can bring home the gold medal."
These days the 33-year-old Vonn's knee needs "some tender loving care."
"To be physically as strong as I was before takes a lot more work and a lot more maintenance. I have to get up earlier and warm my knee up.
"But I still feel like I am as strong as I was before. It just takes more time. Maybe I'm not able to do the kind of volume on snow that I used to do but that doesn't mean that I don't know what I'm doing.
"I've been racing forever and ever and ever. I feel like I already have the miles. I just need to execute on race day."
And by executing on race day, that's very much the prize of Olympic gold.
"The Olympics are definitely very important to me. Not being able to compete in Sochi because of injury was devastating. I have been waiting a long time to repeat or improve upon what I did in Vancouver."
"I want to do what I did in Vancouver. I want another gold medal."