Vail says good-bye to Jimmie Heuga | VailDaily.com
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Vail says good-bye to Jimmie Heuga

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyBlaze Heuga,18, center, eulogizes his father as his brothers, Winston, 15, left, and Wilder, 20, right, comfort and support him Monday during a memorial service for Olympic skiing medalist Jimmie Heuga at the Beaver Creek Chapel.
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VAIL, Colorado –Vail Valley icon Jimmie Heuga doesn’t have multiple sclerosis anymore.

That’s what Heuga’s friends and family are grateful for since Heuga’s death last week – that he no longer has to suffer. Many would like to believe Heuga is skiing powder now through eternity in the best, untracked snow in the universe.

More than 250 people gathered at the Beaver Creek Chapel Monday to honor Heuga, who passed away in Boulder on Feb. 8. Heuga left a legacy in the Vail Valley, and throughout the world, for his innovative thinking about the disease he had since 1970. He founded the Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis in 1984 to challenge medical opinions at the time on how to treat the disease.

Billy Kidd, who stood next to Heuga on the podium at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, remembers his teammate as so much more than just a ski racer. The men were the first two Americans to win Olympic medals in alpine skiing, but Kidd said they “were teammates for life.”

“It would be easy to be sad on this day, but Jimmie wouldn’t want us to be sad,” Kidd said. “Jimmie doesn’t have MS anymore.”

Kidd said Heuga was his hero, even though they were the same age. He admired his skiing ability, graciousness, kindness and sensitivity. Kidd shared a special bond with him throughout the years and continued to admire everything he did for advancing the medical community’s way of thinking about multiple sclerosis. Heuga exercised when doctors told him he should rest, ultimately convincing the multiple sclerosis medical community that his way was, in fact, the right way.

Heuga died 46 years to the day after winning bronze alongside Kidd, who won silver. Kidd remembers that day so clearly, not only because of the medals they had just won, but because of Heuga’s response to the win.

Kidd said Heuga agonized over what to say to Buddy Werner – Heuga felt Werner should have won the race, Kidd said.

It was that humbleness, combined with other endearing characteristics, that people loved so much about Heuga, but nobody loved his qualities more than his three sons, Wilder, 20, Blaze, 18, and Winston, 15.

“My father taught me so much – he was my inspiration, my hero,” Winston Heuga said.

Winston was the first of his brothers to speak at the service Monday – after he said just a few words, there wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. He cried throughout his speech, heartbroken over his father’s death.

Winston said his father was unbreakable, both mentally and physically. Jimmie Heuga may have suffered so many debilitating symptoms from his disease, yet Winston never saw his father give up.

“I never saw my father without a smile,” Winston said.

Blaze commented on his father’s strength, too, as well as his class. He said his father was an inspiration to anyone who knew him.

“When I think of my dad, I picture him as a fighter,” Blaze said. “I’m going to miss learning how to be a better person just by being with you.”

Wilder agreed that his father was a fighter, but said Jimmie Heuga wasn’t fighting every day.

“You were living every day,” Wilder said.

Bob Beattie, Jimmie Heuga’s ski coach at the University of Colorado and on the U.S. Ski Team, called Jimmie Heuga a “true American hero.”

While Jimmie Heuga left a skiing legacy behind, his true legacy is what he accomplished after he was a star athlete, Beattie said.

“We can marvel at what he did at the Olympics, but we can really, really marvel at what he did afterwards,” Beattie said.

Beattie also remembers Heuga’s strength, as well as his courage, laughter and wonderful sense of humor.

“I never heard him complain about one thing, and he suffered so much,” Beattie said. “This is the greatest guy that ever lived – I love Jimmie Heuga.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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