Former U.S. Olympic skier Heuga dies | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Former U.S. Olympic skier Heuga dies

AP and Tribune reports

Courtesy photo

Jimmie Heuga’s life had many twists and turns.

As a young adult, Heuga was one of the top slalom skiers in the world. When multiple sclerosis shortened the Squaw Valley skier’s athletic career, Heuga went on to help other people with his condition.

Heuga’s long battle with multiple sclerosis ended on Monday when he died at age 66.

“Squaw Valley will truly miss Jimmie,” said Nancy Cushing, chairman and CEO of Squaw Valley, which has hosted Heuga’s fundraiser, the Snow Express, for multiple sclerosis for the past quarter of a decade.

“Jimmie’s natural talent first captured the attention of Squaw Valley’s Ski School director at age 8. He went on to an amazing skiing career, medaling in the 1964 Olympic Winter Games. His life, his accomplishments and the incredible strength he showed in demonstrating to others how live with MS are an inspiration to us all.”

Heuga won a bronze medal at the 1964 games and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years later.

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University of Colorado ski coach Richard Rokos, a longtime and close friend of Heuga’s, said the former NCAA champion for CU died at Boulder Community Hospital.

“He was a very strong man and an inspiration to so many people in the ski world and the medical world,” said Heuga’s wife, Debbie . “He’s skiing the hills of heaven right now.”

Rokos said Heuga had recently been dealing with respiratory problems.

Heuga finished third in the slalom at the ’64 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Fellow American Billy Kidd won the silver. It was the first time U.S. skiing had gained prominence worldwide.

“Jimmie Heuga was a champion in every sense of the word,” said U.S. Ski team president Bill Marolt, who skied with Heuga on the 1964 Olympic Team. “He was a champion as an athlete, as a person and any way you want to measure him.

“When I look back at all the athletes I’ve known, pound for pound, Jimmie Heuga was the toughest I’ve ever met. He was a 5-foot-6, 140-pound guy who didn’t back down from anybody. That’s the kind of toughness you need to be a champion.”

Heuga, born in Tahoe City, won the 1963 NCAA championship in the slalom.

In 1968, Heuga and Kidd were pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated before they competed in the Olympics at Grenoble, France. Heuga was inducted into the United States National Ski Hall of Fame in 1976.

Heuga was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970 after displaying symptoms for a year. The effects of the disease eventually confined him to a wheelchair.

“He was the personification of determination and never giving up – he inspired so many people,” Kidd said in release from the U.S. Ski Team. “Jimmie’s accomplishments on the race course will forever be remembered. But it’s his accomplishments and drive in the fight against MS that will continue to help so many people live their lives. His life is an inspiration.”

Heuga founded in 1984 the Jimmie Heuga Center for M.S. in Edwards, a nonprofit organization now called Can Do Multiple Sclerosis. Despite his crippling disease, Heuga was able to carve on the mountain as he once did. The invention of the Mountain Man bi-ski helped put him back on the trails.

“I like the idea that you can carve, and I love it. Whenever you get an edge on this chair, it’s not going to give. It’s cool,” he said at the time.

He spent the last 12 years of his life at the Balfour Retirement Community in Louisville.

Heuga is survived by his wife and their three sons – Wilder, 20, Blaze, 18, and Winston, 15. Debbie Heuga said her husband has a daughter from a previous marriage, Kelly Hamill, of Seattle.