Vail Valley Voices: Can Do thanks founder
Vail, CO, Colorado
With the giving season arriving, we want to take a moment and give thanks to someone very important to our organization – our founder, Jimmie Heuga.
It’s been over two years since Jimmie passed. However, his can do spirit is still alive in the hearts of everybody involved with Can Do MS, which includes our office staff, program consultants, board members, program participants, fundraisers, sponsors and all of our supporters.
“Focus on what you can do,” Heuga said.
Jimmie Heuga grew up near Lake Tahoe, Calif., and started skiing at the age of 2. By 15, he was the youngest man ever named to the U.S. Ski Team.
In 1964, Jimmie stunned the international skiing community when he took the bronze medal in slalom at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Billy Kidd and Jimmie became the first American men to earn Olympic medals for alpine skiing.
Jimmie began noticing symptoms of what would later be diagnosed with MS in the spring of 1967, experiencing vision problems and numbness in his extremities. In 1970, he received an official diagnosis of MS. He was 26 and at the peak of his skiing career.
When Jimmie was diagnosed with MS, doctors advised him to avoid physical activity because exercise was believed to exacerbate his MS symptoms.
Jimmie founded The Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis (now Can Do MS) in 1984 to challenge the conventional medical advice of the time and share his program of physical activity, goal-setting and psychological motivation that improved his physical condition and outlook on life and MS.
Jimmie often said, “I’m not sitting here, languishing, waiting for a cure. I am dedicated to maintaining my overall health because it helps me live the best life possible.”
Today, the “whole person” philosophy and approach that Jimmie pioneered more than 27 years ago is acknowledged within the MS community as a standard of MS care.
In order to spread his philosophy, he needed funding. So he created The Snow Express for MS, the prelude to the Vertical Express for Can Do MS.
In 1985, Heuga and 10 others set a world record, skiing 1 million vertical feet during 24 hours in Alyeska, Alaska. This event raised the seed money to start The Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis.
Over the years, Vertical Express for Can Do MS broadened to include racers of all ages and abilities. It grew to be one of the premier on-snow fundraising events in North America. Thousands have participated in Vertical Express for Can Do MS races at 30 ski areas, raising as much as $1 million per year for the nonprofit organization Jimmie founded.
“There’s more than a cure to your MS. What if we know the cause of MS? People with MS still need to maintain the quality of their lives. Each day is a new day. MS is a day-to-day issue. How do we take charge of our lives when so many challenges appear to be in the way? I wanted to start a program to address these issues,” Heuga said in a 2009 interview.
The first lifestyle empowerment program that Heuga created in 1986 was based on his fitness and wellness approach. The Can Do program name exemplifies Jimmie’s can do attitude and spirit. Over the past 28 years, the Can Do program has helped thousands of people with MS, and their support partners see beyond their MS by giving them the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors, actively co-manage their disease and live their best lives.
We are reminded of Jimmie’s courage to take a stand for people living with MS. He believed people are more than their MS. His example taught us that by focusing on what we can do and making healthy lifestyle choices, we can live passionately and love life.
Thank you for believing in us, Jimmie.
Thank you for teaching us how to regain our power, believe in ourselves and listen to ourselves.
Thank you for your contagious enthusiasm for life, inspiring thousands of people to realize their true potential.
Thank you for your infectious smile and sense of humor, allowing people to let go of their fear and be who they want to be.
Thank you for your twinkle of hope that showed through your compassionate listening of others.
Scott Robinson is the marketing coordinator for Can Do Multiple Sclerosis in Edwards.