Vail Daily letter: What’s in a name? |

Vail Daily letter: What’s in a name?

Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

A few weeks ago, I visited Jim-mie Heuga at his assisted-living facility in Louisville.

Jimmie has lived there for the past 10 years fighting a 40-year battle with multiple sclerosis. During the time I was with him, I was reminded of the kaleido-scope of his rich and meaningful life.

He was a world-champion ski-er, winning the bronze medal in slalom at the Olympics in Inns-bruck, Austria, in 1964. Doctors suggested that he had MS at that time. He went on to compete in the slalom in the 1968 Olympics in Val d’Isere, France, and came in fifth. Not bad for a young man with MS! Jimmie is still that intense competitor and coura-geous man who fights his battles in different ways.

When he was diagnosed with MS in 1969, he chose to create an alternative plan for his well-being. He was told to take med-i-cation, go home and rest. He did that for a short time and decided that this was not going to be his way of life. Instead, he developed his own method of dealing with this dreaded disease. He began to exercise by participating in mul-tiple sports that he enjoyed. Some of these were skiing, tennis, water skiing, swimming and bicycling. He also consulted neu-rologists, nutritionists, psycholo-gists and physical therapists to learn more about MS. As a result of his thorough research, he decided he wanted to share his way of facing the challenges presented by this neurological disorder.

In 1985, the Heuga Center was officially opened for business. Some of our nation’s finest neu-rologists, nurses, physical thera-pists, psychologists and nutri-tionists dedicated their time and effort to go in five-day seminars to Vail, where MS patients would have access to a more proactive method of approaching life with MS.

I would like to digress by saying that Jimmie is still a fierce com-petitor and champion. His qual-ity of life is rather high. He still exercises by getting outdoors for an hour a day wheeling his chair around The Balfour in Louisville, where he lives. His loyal friends have devised a special chair allowing Jimmie to participate in both water and snow skiing. Much of his time is spent with his family and old friends. His sense of humor and love of life have not diminished. Being a Basque man, he still loves stories, dirty jokes, songs, good food, red wine and the ladies.

To my dismay, I was told recently by Jimmie that the Heuga Center’s name will be changed to the Can Do Center. Not only will the name be changed, but Jimmie will no longer be active in his center. It is hard to comprehend the reason-ing behind a name change from the Heuga Center to the Can Do Center. A name has the potential to carry so much, a legacy, an energy, years of commitment and dedication.

The center was his concept and should always have the name “Heuga” after Jimmie. His life’s dream is, as the Heuga Cen-ter’s mission statement says, ” To lead the way with comprehensive programs that empower people and families living with MS to transform and improve their quality of life.” He still has the courage, determination and inspirational qualities to be an active participant in the Heuga Center. Jimmie says, “Focus on what you can do.” Jimmie attend-ed each seminar himself and participated by speaking to the attendees with words of encour-agement and hope. Many of the people who attended the semi-nars still keep in touch with him. Everyone who has supported Jimmie in the world of athletics and neurology will be in disbelief that his name is being removed.

Jimmie’s fierce competitive spirit lives on in his battle with MS. He is still vital and capable of being active in the Heuga Center. In March, Jimmie’s race at Crystal Mountain in Washington state was very successful, and Jimmie’s presence and inspirational speech at the awards ceremony were the key factors that made this event very successful.

Long after Jimmie travels to that great mountain in the sky, he and his center will be remem-bered by many people who deal with MS and others who just love skiing. He should be honored rather than forgotten. Long live the Heuga Center and Jimmie’s legacy!

If you have an opinion on this subject, please contact Heuga Center CEO Kim Sharkey at, fax 970-926-1295 or e-mail

– Sharon Heuga Dwight

Support Local Journalism