The other day I got a phone call from a friend in Vail who told me the people at the Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis are trying to change the name of the center to Can-Do/MS.

I think that taking the name of Jimmie Heuga off of the center name is a major mistake. Thousands of skiers every year look to Jimmie for inspiration and a place to send their donations. Trying to raise money for a fundraiser called Can-Do/MS doesn't make me want to honor and help to continue the search for the cure.

Just as I started writing this, I learned that Jimmie is once again in the hospital. I do hope this issue will be resolved correctly to take that stress off of Jimmie. He needs all his resources to keep his health.

If you agree with this thinking, send an e-mail to ksharkey@heuga.org or to DDana4@AOL.com and keep the name of one of a man who has inspired tens of thousands of people right where it belongs: on the door of the Heuga Center. But, hurry.

I first met Jimmie in 1951 when he was eight years old. His reputation had preceded him. There was a tough slalom course set up on a steep rope tow hill at Squaw Valley and Jimmie was running it with the fluidity of a 25-year-old racing veteran. He was on skis that somebody had given him. They were at least seven feet long and very stiff. The pictures that I took of Jimmie made my film a lot better that year.

Jimmie was only 14 years old in 1960 when the Winter Olympics came to Squaw Valley. The so-called wise people on the Olympic team selection committee deemed him too young to be on the team, even though he was consistently beating some of the team members.

I ran into him several times at those Olympics and he always had a smile on his face and told me, "My time will come." He trained hard for the next four years and, in 1964, he won the bronze medal in the Olympic slalom in Innsbruck behind teammate Billy Kidd and the winner, Pepi Stiegler. The time difference between first and third was less than 18/100th of a second. The small amount of time was the difference between Jimmie becoming the winter sports director at Bear Valley in central Calif. and Pepi Stiegler becoming the ski school director at Jackson Hole, Wyo..

Jimmie started having trouble skiing and experiencing the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis just three years later. He was officially diagnosed with MS by 1970 and his bottomless downhill slide began about that same time. I thought that he had just been up all night when I first saw Jimmie with his MS at the ski trade show in Las Vegas. He was really wobbly on his feet.

He told me about his MS diagnosis and I said, "When this trade show is finished, I'm buying you an airplane ticket to Los Angeles and we are going to make a movie about you and MS." I had no idea what I would do. I just wanted him on film doing what he could still do: barely ride a bicycle, maybe sail a boat, and still swim in a wet suit.

By this time he had come up with the thinking that became the motto of the Heuga Center: "Learn to make do with what you have left." This is what they train their patients to do. 

I recite that Heuga mantra to myself when I can't keep up with my children or other people skiing, sailing, surfing, playing golf, or any athletic endeavor. I have learned to function with what I have left, lower my expectations, and enjoy every moment of every day to its fullest. I have to give Jimmie a lot of credit for this, because it has helped me to live with many different medical problems I've developed as I've aged.

Jimmie and I skied together quite often during the years that I lived in Vail. By then, he was already wearing laminated fiberglass leg supports on his thighs and calves. His MS had disintegrated his physical ability so that he could only do snowplow turns on the beginning chairlift at Beaver Creek.

I sent a camera crew to Alaska to film the first Heuga Express just before moving to Vail,. It was a fundraiser for which a lot of world-class racers, including the likes of Phil Mahre and Jean Claude Killy, flew to Alyeska to ski for dollars to support Jimmie in his endeavors. There is a classic shot of Jimmy crawling on his hands and knees from the finish line to get on a helicopter and fly back to Anchorage.

The Heuga Express has expanded rapidly and, for many years, Jimmie went to all of the Heuga Express races and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. He and his staff learned more of what could be done for people with MS.

During those early years of travel time, Jimmie, together with the help of many friends and donors, established the Heuga Center for the treatment of multiple sclerosis in Vail, Colorado.

Now is the time to keep Jimmie's name, not delete it.

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(Copyright, 2009: WarrenMiller.net).

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