Life after the Games
VAIL ” If Mick Jagger had been in Vail Wednesday night, he would have probably had to line up like all the rest, waiting to shake hands or take his picture with local athletic heroes. Vail Mayor Rod Slifer proclaimed April 12 official Vail Olympian Day, honoring the town’s 2006 Olympians Toby Dawson and Sarah Schleper and Paralympians Sandy Dukat and Ralph Green.
All four athletes found themselves incessantly congratulated Wednesday, signing autographs and being nudged into photographs with smiling admirers.
It’s hard to say how much life has changed much for the athletes as a result of the 2006 Games. Schleper, a Vail-born three-time Olympian who landed the top American result with a 10th place in the 2006 women’s Olympic slalom despite recovering from back surgery in December, proceeded to tear her ACL and meniscus in the World Cup giant slalom following the Games. She accepted her honor Wednesday night with a brace around her knee. Unsure as to whether or not she’ll make another Olympic appearance, Schleper only wished good spring skiing to those in the crowd.
“I hear it’s great out there,” Schleper said. “Ski a run for me.”
Dukat, who moved to the valley three years ago, took bronze in both the 2002 and the 2006 Paralympic slaloms, is planning to race next year, but has declared the Torino Games her last.
The honor is Vail’s
“It was a really a fantastic,” she said. “And I feel so honored to stand up here with my fellow Paralympian and these two Olympians.”
Green, who moved to the valley from New York and, while skiing his first Paralympics this March, was winning the men’s super-G race before crashing, said the best part of his Paralympic experience was seeing Dukat and his other teammates on the podium.
“It was overwhelming,” Green said. “Seeing my teammates on the podium with their families, kickin’ some butt made me feel pretty good.”
Schleper will spend her summer recovering from knee surgery while Dukat and Green will make a series of sponsor appearances and speeches.
Dawson’s life remains the most altered from his Olympic bronze medal mogul run, after which the whole world latched onto his story. Born in South Korea and adopted by Vail ski instructors, Dawson has had to hire two agents to field all the calls from media, fans and those claiming to be his biological parents after the Olympics.
“I’ll be going back there eventually, probably in late spring or early summer,” Dawson said of South Korea. “It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to. I was just waiting for a little of the heat to die off.”
Not surprisingly, several Koreans have come out of the woodwork, claiming the Olympic medallist is their son.
“I’m not convinced there are any good leads yet,” Dawson said. “It’s pretty wild.”
‘Not that big of a celebrity’
Dawson and his adopted family will go through the Korean media and some other agencies in pursuit of legitimate parent possibilities.
“The word’s out there, so that will make it a little easier,” said Dawson, whose post-Olympic appearances have included a Kids’ Choice award from Nickelodeon in Los Angeles, a red carpet appearance at a Disney premiere and several other “cool little things.”
As the Vail Valley Foundation, which organized the ceremony honoring the returning local athletes announced an upcoming sculpture commemorating Vail’s Olympians and Paralympians, Vail Resorts’ Bill Jensen presented Dawson with a lifetime ski pass.
Ironically, Dawson has scarcely touched his skis since winning his Olympic medal, save a couple of days filming for the new Warren Miller film. He skipped the remainder of the World Cup season, and has already played 15 rounds of golf this spring.
“My ski boots aren’t very comfortable for some reason,” Dawson joked. “I kind of knew I wasn’t going to be skiing the rest of the winter (following the Olympics). I had been training so hard and was so focused. I just wanted to relax.”
Dawson is still getting used to being accosted just about everywhere he goes, but he cherishes the attention he’s had from Vail.
“People in town are great, congratulating me all the time and really supporting me,” he said. “It’s nice to thank them for supporting me.”
As for his new fame, Dawson said he believes it will fade in time.
“It’s fun, just some days, you have to step away from it,” he said. “At least I’m not that big of a celebrity.”
Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.