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Jimmie Heuga grew up skiing at Squaw Valley, Calif., where his father, Pascal, worked as a lift operator for 35 years. At age 9, he starred in a Warren Miller film; a dozen years later he collected the bronze medal in the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic slalom, joining silver medalist Billy Kidd as the country’s first male alpine skiers to earn Olympic medals. Heuga’s competitive career was cut short in 1970, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Doctors advised him to “sit back and wait.” He didn’t listen.
Born Sept. 23, 1943 (age 58)
Reclamation Project Ignoring his doctors’ advice to avoid physical activity, Heuga forced himself to get back on his bike, his sailboat and his skis-and to work through the pain and challenge of MS. “I can’t worry about the things I’m unable to do. I focus on the things I can do.”
The Legacy In 1984, he founded the Heuga Center, a nonprofit medical and educational center based near Vail, Colo. It promotes the benefits of exercise and nutrition for people with chronic conditions such as MS. “I could not have dealt with my MS without my ski background-and all that it taught me.” The Center has raised $11 million and helped 3,500 people deal with chronic diseases. In 1996, a scientific study concluded that Heuga was right all along: Exercise is beneficial to people with MS.
Still At It Though now confined to a wheelchair and a health-care facility on Colorado’s Front Range, Heuga maintains his positive outlook. “From one side, I abhor being here, but from the other side I say, ‘Life goes on.’ Sometimes you can’t call the shots. I still exercise here every day.” He also manages to go sit-skiing on occasion with his three children in Vail. “That’s given me a tremendous amount of joy.”
Salt Lake 2002 Thirty-eight years after his historic Innsbruck triumph, Heuga will serve as an Olympic torchbearer in February. He plans to attend the Games and root for the USA.