Talking together quietly with heavy hearts after hearing the news of Willie Neal's death, participants in this week's U.S. Nordic Ski Team Western Region camp at Park City, Utah got up Monday morning and did something appropriate.
They went roller skiing.
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Olympic Development Team skier Neal, 19, of Jackson Hole, Wyo. was killed on Father's Day, Sunday, June 21 while roller skiing in northern Maine. Those in Park City got the news Sunday night.
"All our Olympic Development Team skiers who knew Willie gathered Sunday evening and again this morning to talk about things and get over our initial shock," said Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation cross-country ski coach Rick Kapala from Utah.
Kapala said, "There are 25 kids in our Western Region camp. Some knew Willie, and some didn't know him as well. We're offering grief counseling. I can tell you this—Willie was a heckuva kid, real active. Something like this really makes you appreciate the bike path system we have in the valley."
Police are investigating the accident that killed Neal while he was roller skiing on a northern Maine road outside of Fort Fairfield, according to the Associated Press. Police told news sources that Neal was training with a friend at 8:30 p.m. Sunday when he was struck by a vehicle driven by 18-year-old Eric Lunquist of Fort Fairfield.
Neal had been accepted to Middlebury College in Vermont, but had deferred for a year to train full time with the Maine Winter Sports Center in hopes of making the 2010 World Junior Biathlon Team, according to FasterSkier.com.
He went to MWSC after a stint with the SVSEF and his hometown Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club. Neal and his younger brother, Eliot, were members of a regional team at Maine Winter Sports Center training for biathlon.
Jackson Hole residents William and Mary Neal are the parents of the Neal brothers, reporter Thomas Dewell of the Jackson Hole News & Guide wrote in a story published in a Monday online edition.
Neal served as a Wyoming delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August. In addition, Neal recently served as an intern in the Washington, D.C., office for U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
Competing for the SVSEF ODT at the 2009 USSA Cross Country Junior Nationals in Truckee, Ca. March 11, Neal won the bronze medal for placing third in the Older Junior Boys (ages 18-19) 15-kilometer freestyle race, just three seconds behind the winning time.
"Willie was a talented young athlete, a smart and inquisitive young man and exactly the kind of athlete we look for," said Andy Shepard, President of the Maine Winter Sports Center. "He was a role model others looked up to and we were excited to have him join our program." "This is a devastating blow to the entire US nordic skiing family and on behalf of the volunteers, athletes, staff and board of the MWSC; our thoughts and prayers go out to the Neal family."
Neal, a standout high school skier in Jackson Hole, was a member of the US Junior National Biathlon Team, FasterSkier.com said.
Neal was also the executive director and founder of "Cookies 4 Climate Change," a non-profit organization whose mission is "to promote awareness and activism among youth about the dangers of climate change, and to be an organization that makes the transition into a more environmentally friendly lifestyle more financially feasible."