On the eve of the 2010 Winter Olympics, former American alpine ski racing star Jimmie Heuga, 66, died Feb. 8 in Boulder, Colo. He and Billy Kidd were the first two U.S. men to win Olympic medals in alpine skiing, in 1964 at Innsbruck, Austria.
Suffering from the effects of multiple sclerosis for 40 years, Heuga was best known for founding The Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Edwards, Colo., near Vail, in 1984. The center, now known as Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, promotes alternative lifestyles for those affected by the progressive autoimmune disease of the central nervous system.
There is no cure for MS. But, after being diagnosed with the disease in 1970, Heuga went against the grain of the conventional treatment of energy conservation and instead substituted a regimen of exercise to combat the effects of MS. The center's goal was to share his program of physical activity and thus challenge the conventional medical opinions.
Heuga said, "It's a matter of people taking charge of their own lives."
In the late 1980s, Sun Valley resort hosted a series of Jimmie Heuga Express celebrity fundraising events, with the winners advancing to the final championships at Vail.
The first Heuga Express was held in 1985 at Mount Aleyska, Alaska. Sun Valley's first Heuga Express, which raised $57,000 in January 1987, was the showcase of a 15-event Heuga Express tour. There were 73 skiers on 25 teams doing 2.7 million vertical feet on Baldy's Lower Warm Springs ski run over seven and a half hours.
Heuga, son of a Basque immigrant who operated the cable cars on Squaw Valley's ski hill in California, won a national skiing title at 16 and also won an NCAA skiing title for the University of Colorado in 1963.
A two-time Olympian, Heuga was 20 when he won the slalom bronze and Kidd captured the silver for the U.S. at Innsbruck. Pepi Stiegler, an Austrian who won the gold but who has lived in Jackson Hole, Wyo., since the late 1960s, also suffers from MS. Heuga became a mainstay of the U.S. Ski Team. A week after winning bronze in the Olympics, he became the first American to win the Arlberg-Kandahar race in Garmisch, Germany. In 1968 he made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. By then, he was noticing the first effects of MS.
In 1976, Heuga was named to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. In recent years he was confined to a wheelchair. He was married and divorced twice. Survivors include his second wife and legal guardian, Debbie Dana; their three sons, Wilder, Blaze and Winston of Edwards; his daughter, Kelly Heuga Hamill of Seattle; and father, Pascal Heuga of Concord, Calif.
Friends held a ski day to honor Heuga on Monday, Feb. 15, at Beaver Creek, Colo.
The Heuga family plans to host a celebration of his life in April. They asked people to make contributions to the Jimmie Heuga Center Endowment in lieu of flowers. Send condolences to the Heuga Family, Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, 27 Main St. Suite 303, Edwards, CO 81632.