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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 30, 2004


A crack up any way you look at it

Always a jest in Dr. West

Express Staff Writer

Some people have unforgettable smiles. Some great voices.

In the category of great laughs, Tom West is in a class by himself.

Tom West

The guffaw is belly deep and hearty and used to punctuate the majority of his interactions. His countenance is similar to a lab with a stick at the river. When it comes to happy, the meals at McDonalds have nothing on West.

"My mom and dad both had the same outlook. We try and look for the good in everything. Is the lake half full or half empty?" West trails off in laughter at his own joke and you canít help but join in.

The 49-year old West grew up smack dab in the heartland: Chicago, Illinois. Born in 1955, Tom and younger sister, Christy, were raised on Diamond Lake on Chicagoís north side.

"It was a small lake, not even as big as Payette. We had a ball," West recalled.

Both Tom and Christy were on skis early. Tom started water skiing and snow skiing when he was just four years old.

"They were family sports. It is what we did," he said.

Their love for water skiing was so great, that the whole West clan, along with three other families, participated in Scullyís Ski Show around the greater Chicago area.

"We did tricks, barefoot skiing and jumping," West recalled. "I am still doing the same tricks I was when I was 13. I havenít improved at all!"

In 1968, 13-year old Tom participated in the Junior National Water Ski Championships. He finished fifth in jumping.

But by the time he was a senior in high school, West was a major league pitching prospect instead a competitive skier. In 1973 he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but chose to go to college instead.

"I was drafted low, so I opted for the scholarship," West said.

West attended the University of Wisconsin, where he was a starting pitcher for the Badgers. At 6-3 and close to 200 pounds, West could bring it. He estimated his top fastball at 88 mph.

"Back then they used police guns to see how fast you could throw," he remarked.

As a Big 10 pitcher, West still had designs on a major league career, but they came to an end one day against a future Hall-of-Famer, Paul Molitor.

West recounted, "Paul Molitor was playing at Minnesota. One day we had a Big 10 matchup and there were tons of scouts there. I thought they were there watching me. I found out that was not true after he jacked two off me. That was my sophomore year. Itís been hard to watch his career, but I feel a little better now that heís in the Hall of Fame."

While attending college, Tom planned on becoming a dentist like his father and an uncle, but it was his dad, Sid, who pointed him in another direction.

"My dad was in a car accident and he lost strength in his arm as a result. He went to a chiropractor and he pulled him out of it," West said. "After college I sent all my pre-med stuff to the chiropractic schools, instead of the dental."

After completing eight years of school and becoming a chiropractor, West moved to the Wood River Valley in 1980 and set up shop. Heís been putting his hands on the local population ever since.

About four years ago, West grabbed a tow rope again. He bought a house at Black Butte, a man-made competition water ski lake north of Shoshone.

Local builder Gary Storey spearheaded the project and West has been a part of the project since its inception.

"I really havenít seen a lake better than ours," West said. "It has a slalom course and jump and itís shaped so the wake goes out and stops. Itís a half-mile long and 300 feet wide. It is the perfect length for skiing."

West estimates he spends three or four days a week at Black Butte and in the course of living on a lake again, rediscovered his childhood passion for water skiing and jumping.

"The thrill of floating through the air is really great. I still get an adrenaline rush before I jump," West said.

West said he catches between 115 and 120 feet of air when he jumps. His longest leap was 125 feet. The landings can be a little hairy, but "you can do it as ugly as you want as long as you land it."

"Itís much easier in the air," he quipped.

Earlier this year, West met the qualifying mark of 114 feet and earned a berth in the Goode Water Ski National Championships in West Palm Beach, Florida, August 3-7.

His father, Sid, will accompany him. West will compete in the menís 4 class (ages 45-53) against 19 other athletes on Tuesday.

"Now that I have gotten back into it, I am hooked," he said.

Dr. West stopped by the Idaho Mountain Express for a little chat and a lot of laughs on Wednesday.


JZ: We all know you are a happy guy. What makes you sad?

TW: The only thing I can think of is when my dog, Newman, died last year. That was sad.

JZ: Who cracks your back?

TW: Either Dr. Dean (Rutherford) or Dr. Joel (Jarolimek), both who worked with me. I need it a lot after water skiing. Every Monday they know where I am going to be.

JZ: Who cracks you up?

TW: I love comedy. I just love it. I donít know. It seems weíre always laughing with everyone.

JZ: Which sports teams do you root for?

TW: The Cubs. I am still a Cubs fan. The Bulls and the Bears. All the Chicago teams. We used to take the L down to the Cubs games. Our parents would give us money. We had a ball. All the people on train knew us and at the ballpark. I donít know if you could do that with kids now, but it sure was fun then.

JZ: What organized sports did you play growing up?

TW: I played baseball, football, and basketball. Basketball was actually my favorite sport. I played it all through high school.

JZ: What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? TW: The most valuable thing is when people thank me for helping them at the office. That can really make my day.

JZ: Is there a lot of satisfaction in your job?

TW: Absolutely. I love it. I feel so fortunate to live in a place I love so much and do what I love for a profession. I love snow skiing more than anything, and having Black Butte really completes the package. I could never go anywhere else now.

JZ: How many days a year do you ski on Baldy?

TW: Close to 100. I think it is fantastic. Baldy gets better every year.

JZ: What was your best day ever on Baldy?

TW: February 22. It had to be 1987. It was the biggest powder day I have ever seen here. I have a video of people with powder over their heads on Scorpion.

JZ: Who are your ski buddies?

TW: I always go up alone. But I ski with everybody. Whoever is up there. I always seem to make the last run of the day with Bruce Exner. There is no one up there and we go straight down.

JZ: Has your life changed a lot in 10 years.

TW: Well, there are not as many nights out anymore. I am happy. I feel more relaxed and more content. One of the reasons is, being satisfied with reaching the goals that I made when I moved here. I built the practice. I have a home here in town and at the lake. There is not anything that I crave that much. When I first moved here it seems like I always wanted to check out other ski areas. I traveled a lot. I skied in Canada, Greenland, all around Utah. I would always go to Hawaii or Mexico in the spring and fall. But you can start water skiing as soon as the mountain closes, so I donít even do that anymore. I am now content in Sun Valley. It took me years of practice to refine this program.

JZ: What is your favorite time of day to water ski?

TW: I love skiing in the evening. The lighting is so good. There is a time of night when the water turns purple. It is a magical time to ski.

JZ: Do you have any regrets?

TW: None. I would like to change a couple of things, but I really donít have any regrets.

JZ: What would you change?

TW: I would have taken my money out of the stock market a couple of years ago.

JZ: Where do you think you will be in 10 or 15 years?

TW: Enjoying my life right here in Sun Valley.



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High Country Property Rentals

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.