Olympic medalist Jimmie Heuga, a star of the 1964 Olympic Winter Games and one of the U.S. Ski Team’s greatest ski racers, has passed away.
His death on Monday, February 8, 2010 was 46 years to the day after he won a bronze medal behind Billy Kidd’s silver in the 1964 Olympic slalom.
His passing saddens all of us who love skiing and the Olympic spirit, especially his U.S. Ski Team family, just days before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Jimmie Heuga was 66 years old and suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, diagnosed when he was just 26 and at the height of his racing career.
Heuga gained worldwide acclaim for his 1964 Olympic medal. But his real contribution was after he was diagnosed with MS, and dedicated his life to research and innovative treatment of the disease.
MS is a degenerative disease in which connections between nerves literally break, affecting movement, and — eventually — breathing.
In case you are wondering why a blog about green travel and green cars includes a posting on a skier’s death, there are three good reasons.
One, a very close family member of mine also suffered for years from MS. It was my husband, Allen Kanter, the father of my two wonderful children. His death was twenty-one years ago today, on February 9, 1989.
Two, because I love skiing.
Three, because I have a profound respect for the work Jimmie Heuga did founding his center in Edwards, Colorado, near Vail, to spread his positive can do philosophy and help MS sufferers.
Jimmy Heuga will be missed.
Heuga grew up skiing in Squaw Valley and became a U.S. ski champion in 1960 at the age of 16.
He entered the 1964 Games as one of the favorites, and part of a powerhouse team that included Billy Kidd, Bill Marolt, Chuck Ferries and Buddy Werner, and the drive to win the first U.S. men’s alpine skiing medal ever.
Heuga and Kidd became lifelong friends after they made history, with Kidd taking silver and Heuga taking bronze in the slalom.
In one of those giant quirks of history, the man who took gold in that same race — Austria’s Pepi Steigler — also has been diagnosed with MS. Steigler has been Ski School Director at Jackson Hole for decades.
After top-six finishes at the 1966 World Championships in Portillo, Chile, Heuga became the first American to win the prestigious Arlberg-Kandahar in 1967 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
That same year he began to notice symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as MS. A year later he was named to his second Olympic Team, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated together with Kidd.
At only 26, at the peak of his ski racing career, Heuga’s MS diagnosis was confirmed. The conventional medical wisdom then was for MS victims to avoid physical or emotional stress.
Heuga ignored that and created an athlete’s regimen for himself of physical activity, nutrition and positive outlook, which he shared through the center he created in 1984.
Today the Center, renamed Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, continues his legacy as a passionate advocate for other MS patients and for new treatment therapies which are now the medical standard for MS care.
Heuga has been honored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. He has been inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame and is an honored member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.
His spirit lives on.
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