By Scott Willoughby
Denver Post Sports Writer
Oct. 23 - More than 35 years after he won an Olympic skiing medal, Vail Valley resident Jimmie Heuga still is being recognized for greatness. Only this time, the accolades have little to do with skiing.
Heuga, 56, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after retiring from the U.S. Ski Team in 1968, will be honored Saturday night as the Rocky Mountain representative for the Texaco Star Award at U.S. Skiing's Colorado Ski and Snowboard Ball at the Hyatt Regency. Heuga, the 1964 Innsbruck lympic bronze-medalist in the slalom - University of Colorado teammate Billy Kidd won the silver in the same race - is among five regional finalists for the first Star Award honoring the contributions U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team alumni have made to their communities.
"He just popped out. From Texaco's point of view, he's everything we strive to be," company spokesperson Keelin Molloy said. "The can-do attitude, the making the impossible possible - not only for himself, but he's shared it with thousands of people. He really has affected the lives of so many people, it's amazing."
After dedicating the first half of his life to skiing, Heuga's focus shifted to assisting the physically challenged through the Edwards-based Jimmie Heuga Center. Initially designed to help victims of MS, an incurable disease, Heuga's current vision is to assist anyone with a physical challenge.
"Doctors used to ask me, 'How long have you been sick?'" Heuga said. "I'd tell them, 'I'm not sick ... but I have this disease.'"
Advised by doctors to conserve his strength and "wait for a cure," the youngest male ever to make the U.S. Ski Team instead continued to participate in a variety of activities. In 1984, he opened the Jimmie Heuga Center. The center provides medical, rehabilitative and educational programs while focusing on a person's wellness and encouraging them to have active lives.
"By developing the center, we've shown people how to take charge of their health and improve the quality of their lives," Heuga said. "It's another chapter of my life."
Along with finalists from four other regions, Heuga will receive a $1,000 check to be presented to the charity of his choice - the Jimmie Heuga Center - and remains in contention for a $10,000 prize as the national Texaco Star Award winner, which will be announced in New York on Nov. 8. Other regional finalists are Jeff Pagels from the Midwest, Suzy Harris-Rytting from Utah (Intermountain), 1952 double Olympic gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence from the West and Sally Knight-Utter from the East.
"I just think it's a real tribute to Jimmie," said Heuga's wife, Debbie. "He's done so much in two arenas - one in the world of skiing and one in the world of medicine. I think being recognized for his medical contributions is something that is real important, but Jimmie is too humble to admit that."