Ski Racing Loses a Legend
JIMMIE HEUGA, SEPTEMBER 22, 1943 TO
FEBRUARY 8, 2010 BY ROBERT FROHLICH
It was in early February 1964 during the Olympic Winter Games at Innsbruck, Austria, that Lake
Tahoe’s 20-year old Jimmie Heuga, starting out of the second seed, hatless and without goggles, negotiated quickly down the tight, bone-hard slalom set on the Patsherkofel track.
Gaining momentum, Heuga zipped into the final combinations on the steilhung. Undaunted, Heuga found that his second run propelled him solidly into third place, a quarter-second behind teammate Billy Kidd, who missed the gold — which went to Austrian Pepi Steigler by 0.14 of a second.
“Everybody was stunned,” Heuga later recalled. “Billy began punching me in the arm. Bob Beattie
was so excited he ran down from the start of the course to reach us in the finish corral. He was in
As Heuga kicked out of his Kastle skis, an estimated crowd of 60,000 roared in disbelief. Kidd had
won the silver and Heuga, the bronze.
Heuga, who died on February 8 at Boulder Community Hospital in Colorado due to complications
stemming from multiple sclerosis, went on to compete at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France, finishing his amateur career with two top- 10 finishes in GS and slalom. In 1966, he finished fourth in the combined at the World Championships. The following year he skied to third-place
overall in the World Cup GS standings. All in all, he spent 10 years on the U.S. team, competed in two
World Championships and in two Olympic Winter Games, and won two national ski titles.
Born in San Francisco in 1943 to French-Basque parents, Jimmie moved with his family to Lake
Tahoe and began skiing under the tutelage of Squaw Valley’s famed ski school director Emile Allais.
At age 15, he made the U.S. alpine team. Coached by Willi Schaeffler at University of Colorado, Jimmie captured the 1963 NCAA Slalom Championship.
“Willi told me: ‘You can take any day and make it a good day,’” Heuga once recalled. “His favorite
expression was “Come to attention,’ which, interpreted, meant to create your own circumstances.”
Heuga would need such lessons in life. During the 1968 Games, his timing appeared off. He felt
sluggish with numbness and blurry vision. In 1970, a spinal tap confirmed doctors’ suspicions. Jimmie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological disabling disease with no known cure.
For the next several years his energy steadily sank. He was forced to stop skiing. Doctors urged
him to save his energy and avoid stress. By 1972, as his condition worsened, he watched the Sapporo
Games from his home in Connecticut. His marriage had ended. Two sports stores in which he had
Billy Kidd, Pepi Stiegler and
Jimmie Heuga share Olympic
glory at Innsbruck.
an interest in were failing. He felt uncertain and
Talk about ultimate cool. Heuga eventually
figured out how shrug it all off and keep his sanity and sense of humor.
Heuga came to attention. He moved back to
the mountains and resumed skiing. He created
a program of cardiovascular endurance and
strengthening exercises and began spreading
his philosophy to others with MS. He even remarried and had three children.
In 1984, he established the Jimmie Heuga
Center in Vail, Colo., a scientific research center
for MS patients to regain a quality of life, challenge MS and find self-esteem.
The center, now called Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, has grown to include satellite operations
coast to coast. Heuga, as its life force, traveled
thousands of miles per year, fundraising, promoting annual ski and biking events and visiting those with ongoing medical programs. Only
a week before his death, Heuga had been in
Reno, Nev., to promote his fund-raising “
Vertical Express for MS” races at Vail and other ski
“There’s no mystery to this,” said Jimmie from
his wheelchair at the event. “It kind of goes back
to what Willi said about taking command of
your life. The main thing is never to give up on
yourself. Life is what we make it.”