Mendes brings tears, smiles to hometown
News of Jonna Mendes’ bronze medal at the World Alpine Skiing Championships spread more quickly than a mountain flu bug on the South Shore on Monday morning.
“I’ve been smiling since 9 o’clock this morning,” said Ted Pitcher, who coached Mendes when she was an 11- and 12-year-old with the Heavenly Ski Foundation Team.
Womensport Equipment & Clothing store owner Dana Jo Turvey’s daily search of skiing news on Internet left her in tears.
“I blubbered like a little girl with a paper cut,” said Turvey, who has reported on Mendes’ races from time to time during her World Cup career. “It’s so cool seeing her come into her own.”
Noel Dufty, Mendes’ Heavenly coach since she was a teenager, was at a J3 Junior Olympic race at Sugar Bowl when word came in of his prize pupil’s feat. Mendes cried as she left a message on the Dufty’s answering machine.
“She’s just had a good run, so I thought something special might happen,” Dufty said. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.”
Turvey believes that Mendes finally reached the podium because she is skiing injury-free this season.
“She doesn’t have that hardware in her foot, she’s not recovering from an injury, so she finally has a solid year to ski race,” Turvey said.
In the previous three seasons, Mendes has dealt with a broken thumb, broken foot and surgery to remove screws used to expedite healing of her broken foot.
“She’s had three surgeries in three years,” said Turvey, who once had an employee by the name of Mendes in her store nearly five years ago.
Mendes’ success in the biggest race outside of the Olympic Games also brought back memories of when she was a beginning racer at Heavenly.
“She was a tiny little thing, dipping down under Powder Bowl Chair and always the first one to the bottom,” said Cathy Vogelgesang, who coached Mendes when she joined the team more than a decade and a half ago.
Mendes taught Vogelgesang a lesson early in their coach-skier relationship.
“One day I was teaching pole planting and I turned around to Jonna and told her, “Why aren’t you doing this?’ And she said, ‘I’m doing what you do.’ I was dragging my arm and she saw that. She saw everything. It kind of blew me away at that age.”
Pitcher said that Mendes was fortunate to have a highly skilled teammate — Alicia Howard — to push her when the races became more competitive at the J4-J5 level.
“I remember telling them one time, ‘If you girls ski until you’re 50 years old, you’ll be skiing together in masters racing,’ recalled Pitcher, who now is a trainer for Heavenly Valley Ski School. “They were both brilliant and they both pushed each other right onto the U.S. team.”
Even though Mendes has little time to spend in South Lake Tahoe, Pitcher loves the way she comes back and skis with the youngsters at the foundation.
“She was the sweetest girl there ever was and she’s still the same way,” Pitcher said. “My 10-year-old (Aimee) thinks the world of her. She has pictures of her all over (her bedroom) wall.”
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