‘We knew we could do it’ – Jimmie Heuga | VailDaily.com

‘We knew we could do it’ – Jimmie Heuga

The Heuga Center/Special to the DailyJimmie Heuga, right, took bronze in the 1964 Olympic slalom in Innsbruck. Fellow American Billy Kidd, left, won the silver. Austrian Pepi Stiegler won the gold.

EDWARDS – At 20 years old, Jimmie Heuga couldn’t believe he was at the Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. For him and his other young teammates, it was like a dream, he said.”We would punch each other on the shoulder,” he said. “We couldn’t really believe it was going on. We were floored.”The dream was about to get a lot better.Heuga and teammate Billy Kidd shocked the international skiing community by taking the bronze and silver, respectively, in the slalom. Those were the first Olympic medals the U.S. men’s alpine team had ever won. Heuga was a mere .39 seconds behind gold medalist Pepi Stiegler of Austria. Going into the event, Heuga knew the Americans had a chance to do well, he said.

“We had a track record,” he said. “We knew we could do it.”But he also sensed that the skiing world was not expecting the Americans to be on the podium, he said.As Heuga stood on the podium with Kidd and Stiegler, he was overwhelmed, he said.”You’d never been in a situation when everyone was focusing on you,” he said.The Heuga Center

In his years after the Olympics, Heuga has continued to have his share of Olympic-sized battles and triumphs. Just before he competed in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France, he started having symptoms of multiple sclerosis. In 1970, he was diagnosed with the disease.The conventional medical wisdom of the time dictated that Heuga curtail all exercise. But he kept feeling worse. Finally, he decided to start exercising, and found that he felt much better.In 1984, Heuga founded the Heuga Center, which promotes an active lifestyle for people with MS. The Heuga Center runs programs for living with MS that include nutrition, support from family members and exercise. It brings people to the Vail Valley for five-, two- and one-day programs.”(The Olympics) served as a background to prepare me for the development of my program,” Heuga said.Heuga, who moved to the Vail Valley in the early ’80s, now lives in an assisted-living home in Louisville, outside of Denver, but also spends a lot of time in Eagle County. He is now confined to a wheelchair, and his speech can be tough to understand at times. But he still leads an active life, exercising every day – he bikes, swims and even gets up to Vail Mountain quite a bit on his sit-ski.His three children, Wilder, Blaze and Winston, live in Eagle County.

Rooting for DaronHeuga competed in the giant slalom and slalom in the 1964 Olympics. He had picked up giant slalom racing after the slalom, but he developed a great enthusiasm for giant slalom. But he was disqualified in the Olympics when he went off course.”I was shattered,” he said.But Heuga said he remembers the patriotic atmosphere among the U.S. athletes at the Innsbruck Games.”You had a sense of pride,” he said. “There were sweaters and outfits and all kinds of flags. But your mind was so focused on your event.”

Heuga said he’s rooting for the U.S. Olympic team this year, especially Daron Rahlves, who, like Heuga, is from Lake Tahoe. The sport has changed quite a bit since his day, he said.”Athletes are better, stronger, bigger, better trained,” he said. Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or estoner@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism