Some of us are born to do certain things in life. James Frederic “Jimmie” Heuga was born to ski. Jimmie began competitive skiing at age five and appeared in a Warren Miller film at age nine. In 1958, Jimmie became the youngest man ever to make the US Ski Team. In 1963, he won the NCAA championship for Slalom at University of Colorado in Boulder. February 8th, 1964, along with Billy Kidd, Jimmie took home the Bronze medal at Innsbrook becoming the first American men to medal in slalom.
In 1967 Jimmie continued his ascension as one of the greatest American slalom racers of all time. He finished third in point standings in the World Cup giant slalom and was the first American to win the prestigious Arlberg-Kandahar race in Garmisch, Germany. Then it happened.
By the spring of 1967, Jimmie was experiencing blurry vision and numbness in his lower extremities. Despite the mysterious symptoms, he continued competing. He represented USA in the 1968 Olympics and the joined the professional racing circuit. The mysterious symptoms would not go away and Jimmie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1970.
Jimmie’s doctors urged against physical activity, ending his prestigious racing career in his prime at only 26 years old. Being an Olympic athlete, Jimmie challenged the conventional thought of the day and held steadfast to his belief that people with MS should continue to maintain an active lifestyle. Forever the trailblazer, The Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis, now Can Do MS, was founded in 1984.
Unfortunately, Jimmie passed away due to complications of MS on February 8th of 2010, 46 years to the day that he won his Bronze medal for USA. Although Jimmie is no longer with us, Jimmie’s family and the Can Do MS foundation continue to carry his torch.
This year on September 22nd would have been Jimmie’s 72nd birthday. I sat down with Jimmie’s son, Blaze, to share his memories of his father.
Matt: Blaze, sorry for your loss. In reading about your dad and learning what a pioneer he was on the trails and for those of us with MS, the world is missing a truly great man. I am honored that we have a chance to talk. Could you share favorite memory of yours about your father?
Blaze: My favorite memory of my father is when my brothers and I got to do things outdoors. When we skied with our dad, he would fly by most people on the mountain. He could water ski, fish, ATV etc. better than most healthy people. It was inspiring for us to see as we were growing up. He also had a new story about his past every time we saw him. He lived a full life, and it always put a smile on our faces.
Matt: As a dad with MS who has two young children, could you talk about how your dad’s MS impacted your life?
Blaze: My dad’s MS put life in perspective in the sense that I’m always appreciative of the small things. Whether that be living in a country where I can drink clean water or eat food whenever I want to, or having my health so that I can push my physical and mental limits to the point most people can’t or won’t. Life is a grand adventure, especially if you choose to wake up every day and take advantage of every second.
Matt: Your dad was a tremendous patient advocate and paved the way for many of us living with MS to lead a healthy, physically active life. How did his involvement in patient advocacy and Can Do MS inspire your course?
Blaze: My dad created a community so that people didn’t wallow in the negativity of their situation. Being physically active isn’t just something I do to improve my health, nor was it my dad’s main goal. Being active is a way to see the world from a different perspective, to create unique memories, and to accomplish goals you’ve set out for yourself. As an end result, my dad’s involvement in Can Do MS has changed how we all think about we can do, and not what we’re limited by.
Matt: What is the one message that you think your dad would want people living with MS to know?
Blaze: Growing up, my dad was always an Olympic athlete in my eyes. He was physically gifted unlike many people on this planet. However, he showed us all that our minds are our most powerful tools. As long as you understand that, despite your present situation, you have the ability to improve your life every day, we can all overcome any obstacle.
I want to thank Blaze Heuga for joining me today in remembering his father, Jimmie. To show the appreciation in Jimmie’s advocacy for MS, let’s show Jimmie our Can Do Spirit!
Can Do MS is having a photo contest to celebrate Jimmie’s birthday. Here is all you have to do:
- Take a photo of yourself pledging to something you ‘can do’ – anything from an athletic feat to a new personal goal.
- Share your photo on our interactive photo pledge wall (http://www.mscando.org/multiple-sclerosis-events/can-do-day/).
- Gain votes for your pledge and inspire others to participate.
The winners of the contest win some cool prizes which is just the way Jimmie would’ve wanted it.