Public appearances by 84-year-old Sun Valley Resort owner Earl Holding have become rare since he had a stroke in 2002. However, more than 600 people watched Saturday evening as Holding, sitting in a wheelchair with an oxygen tube running to his nose, was wheeled up to center stage at the Sun Valley Inn's Limelight Room.
The crowd immediately rose from their seats, welcoming Holding with exuberant applause and whistling as a blue ribbon was draped around his neck. Hanging from the ribbon was a medal, marking his induction into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. He was the first of six inductees joining the Hall of Fame Saturday, one of which was locally raised Paralympian ski racer Muffy Davis.
Holding's wife, Carol, stood at his side, her left hand wrapped around his shoulder as the right hand held a cane. She spoke in her husband's stead.
"I don't know about this. You know, Earl could've never made it without me," she said in jest, receiving a burst of laughter from the crowd and a smile from her husband.
Holding bought Sun Valley Resort in 1977, and the couple immediately began a revitalization program to restore and expand the historic resort, originally opened in 1936.
"It's kind of humbling, actually," she said, passing on the credit to the locals—making up much of the crowd—who each invest in the skiing community. "Without you, Sun Valley wouldn't be what it is today. Bless you all for coming."
The couple left the stage and received another standing ovation. The crowd was up and down many times that night, but never for so long as when Davis wheeled her chair onto the stage.
When Davis positioned herself on the stage facing the audience and was ready to talk, the clapping didn't quiet and the standing didn't sit. Davis' eyes teared up, and she motioned the audience to stop.
"I speak for a living, and I'm speechless," said Davis, who was a competitive ski racer until a training accident on Bald Mountain paralyzed her from the waist down at age 16 in 1989. She then turned to school but eventually returned to skiing, winning four Paralympic medals (a bronze and three silvers) and other championships, before retiring to become a motivational speaker.
She described herself as a dreamer who grew up striving to one day compete in the Olympics. She thought her lifelong plans were dashed in 1989.
"I discovered that maybe my goal was still possible, although in a different way," she said, mentioning that she also never planned to be in the Hall of Fame because she never "dreamed" it to be a possibility.
Davis described the moment she told her parents that she wanted to return to the sport that had paralyzed her.
"I knew you, in your hearts, wanted to say no," she said to her parents sitting at a front table, trying to fight back her tears so she could finish the sentence. "But you didn't."
Family was an obvious theme of inductees' speeches Saturday night, as noted by inductee and former U.S. Ski Team racer Bobby Cochran, who's now a doctor.
"One thing we've been talking about is family," he said, whether by blood or the camaraderie derived from a shared passion—snow. "We're all family."
Inductees mentioned how the night was a chance to reunite with past skiing buddies, unseen for years.
The other inductees were U.S. Ski Team racer Daron Rahlves, as well as big-mountain skiers Glen Plake and the late Shane McConkey.
Plake, with his trademark foot-tall Mohawk hairstyle, closed the night. The skiing personality was entertaining and cracking jokes, as usual. However, he cried between chuckles.
"I'm not a big competitor, so I don't have these situations that often," he said of being inducted. "So, thank you. Nothing cooler than a Mohawk guy crying. Yeah, punk rock."
He recalled the days when the skiing community looked down on him for not fitting the mold.
"I know what a lot of people said, 'Hair today, gone tomorrow.' Guess what? I'm in the Hall of Fame," Plake said and laughed.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org