Friday, February 1, 2002
BY LEX HEMPHILL
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
DENVER -- Jimmie Heuga has heroically borne the indignities of multiple sclerosis for the past three decades. Today he will bear something more ennobling -- the Olympic torch.
Heuga and lifelong friend Billy Kidd, the first two American male skiers ever to medal in the Winter Games, joined dozens of Olympians on Wednesday night to greet the Olympic flame on its four-day swing through Colorado. Today, they get their own chance to participate in the torch revelry.
While Heuga will carry the torch in his wheelchair in Vail, Kidd will take part in his own ceremony in his hometown of Steamboat Springs, the Olympian-producing town that was left off the torch route. He will ski a torch down Mt. Werner in honor of the late Buddy Werner, an Olympic teammate of Kidd and Heuga in 1964.
For Heuga, the opportunity to carry the 2002 Olympic torch is "a real privilege," but on a practical level it is something more. It is a furlough from the assisted-living facility where he has been staying for the past three years. His M.S. had gotten to the point where he needs more care, and so he has had to live apart from his wife and three sons in Vail.
"For me, it's a chance out of jail," said Heuga of his torch run. "You can call it what you want, but it's an institution. In some ways, I should be lucky that there's a facility like this that's available. On the other side, it's horrible. I'm in a facility where I'm the youngest by about 28 years. And if you see anyone of any interest, they're not totally lucid."
In their younger days, as 20-year-old newcomers, Heuga and Kidd made history in the 1964 Olympic slalom in Innsbruck, Austria. Kidd won the silver medal and Heuga the bronze, breaking an Alpine medal drought by U.S. men since the sport was introduced to the Olympics in 1936.
"To win a medal with my teammate, Jimmie Heuga, this was really special," said Kidd. "It said that the U.S. team did not just have somebody who had a lucky day, but that we were a team now and we were really strong."
It is a curiosity that three medalists from the 1964 Winter Olympics -- Heuga, slalom gold medalist Pepi Stiegler and downhill gold medalist Egon Zimmerman, both of Austria -- all have contracted M.S. Heuga, who helps other people with M.S. through the Jimmie Heuga Center in Vail, said he has talked to both men about the disease. "Pepi has been to our program. Egon, I offered it to him. I don't think he's quite ready."
As the Olympics approach, Heuga and Kidd are cheering for another University of Colorado and 1964 Olympic teammate, Bill Marolt, the U.S. ski team boss who set a goal of 10 medals in the upcoming Games. Marolt recently said, "I've gone down a lot of roads and highways and byways with those guys."
But some roads, one must go down
alone, and Jimmie Heuga has traveled his heroically for the last 30 years.
Today, the road will be illuminated by the glow of the Olympic torch and
by the glint, in his memory, of a historic bronze medal.
© Copyright 2002, The Salt Lake Tribune