America’s can do kids
For a while, 40 years ago, Jimmie Heuga and Billy Kidd knew what it was like to be the Beatles.
They were young, good looking and were the focus of their universe. On Feb. 8, 1964, the dashing young men became the first Americans to win Olympic medals in alpine skiing.
On Sunday, Heuga skied down the mountain at Steamboat Springs in a sit-ski with Kidd, his best friend, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their Olympic medals won in Innsbruck, Austria. In the Olympic slalom event, Heuga took the bronze and Kidd the silver, winning the first American men’s Olympic ski medals. Their teammate, Buddy Werner, was the anticipated medal winner. He finished ninth in the slalom.
To commemorate the anniversary, and in honor of Werner, the two Olympians and a company of friends and well-wishers skied down Buddy’s Run in Steamboat Springs.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years,” said Heuga. “It was a lifetime ago.”
After their 1964 medals, Heuga and Kidd continued successful careers in ski racing, Kidd racing in another Olympics and then joining the professional circuit. Heuga also raced in the 1968 Olympics ,but was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970, at the height of his racing career. Ever the optimist, Heuga took his diagnosis and turned it into a positive force in his life.
Doctors at the time didn’t know much about treating MS. They followed the conventional wisdom of the time and advised Heuga to abstain from any physical exercise for six years, which they thought would keep the disease from getting worse.
Heuga has many gifts and natural talents, but leisure is not one of them. When he saw his emotional and physical well-being slowly decline, he rebelled.
Defying his doctors’ orders, Heuga began an exercise program and rebuilt his physical and emotional strength. His success revolutionized the way that MS is managed to this day.
Heuga also reasoned that if it worked for him, it would work for others. In 1984, Heuga founded the nonprofit Heuga Center, based in Edwards, to teach others his strategies for managing MS. Today the Center not only focuses on the person with MS, but the family as well and through its CAN DO Programs, has assisted more than 6,500 people and families living with the disease.
“If I’m remembered for anything I want it to be for my work at the Heuga Center,” said Heuga. “That’s my passion.”
Now celebrating its 20th birthday, The Heuga Center is recognized as a leader in MS management, and is the only resource of its kind in the world.
The organization is primarily funded through the Jimmie Heuga Snow Express for MS, the largest on-snow fund-raiser in the country. Held at 15 resorts in the United States and Canada, the Snow Express for MS raises nearly $1 million annually to support the Center’s CAN DO, CAN DO2, and Jumpstart Programs.
These programs are conducted throughout the country by a team of more than 100 MS doctors and specialists. Proceeds from the Snow Express help pay the cost of conducting the programs and also provide scholarships for those who would not otherwise be able to attend.
This year the Snow Express will be held at three Colorado locations: Feb. 28 at Copper Mountain; March 14 at Steamboat Springs; and March 31-April 4 in Vail for the international finals. The Snow Express is sponsored by Columbia Sportswear and RSN.