What makes a person spend the greater part of their life going round and round, faster and faster on a sheet of ice, inside and out, gliding on a skinny piece of metal? I know someone who has done just that and done it well. Her name is Jeanne Ashworth, and she is an Olympian who lives and works among us. Jeanne is one of those who, having visited us, or played with us, or competed here, decided the Adirondacks was where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.
Jeanne was born July 1, 1938 in Burlington, Vt., but the family soon moved to Wilmington, Mass., where she grew up and went to school. It is interesting to note that she later chose Wilmington, N.Y., for her home. The journey for Jeanne, from Wilmington to Wilmington, was made, in part, on a pair of those long-bladed skates. Her first skates cost eight dollars, brand new, and were made by “Planet.” When she had been skating in races for awhile, “her new custom-made skates cost $40.” (It is easy to compute an approximate age for both Jeanne and me, if you know the cost of our first pair of skates.)
The first race that Ashworth ever competed in was a Silver Skates Derby that she saw advertised in a Boston newspaper. Her favorite story had always been “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” so, at the age of six, she talked her mother into entering her in the race. She decided after this first experience racing that she would be a speed skater.
It was Jeanne’s good fortune that Wilmington, Mass. had a speed skating club, which held races both on outside ice and inside arenas, and she joined the club with the full support of her parents. (Her initial introduction to Lake Placid was when the Wilmington, Mass. Speed Skating Club came to meets in our village.) This support from her family helped her to reach her goals. They once took the train with Jeanne to a North American meet in Michigan using free tickets from her grandfather, who worked as a railroad engineer. Her Parents also drove her all the way to Colorado Springs in order for her to train at the “Broadmoor,” on both indoor and outdoor rinks, at a high altitude.
Jeanne Ashworth decided “to go for it” as soon as it was announced that Women’s Speed Skating would become, in 1960, an official Olympic sport. She trained outside of Boston, where a speed skating club had both indoor and outdoor rinks, and did well at the Olympic trials in 1959, making the team in the 500 meter event. In 1960, when she was a Physical Therapy student at “Tufts,” she competed in her first Olympics and won a bronze medal in the 500 meter race, finishing eighth in both the 1000 and 3000 meter races. She placed forth in the 500 meter in 1964. Jeanne was the National Outdoor Champion in 1961, 1963 and 1967 and the National Indoor Champion in 1957, 1959 and 1963. In 1961 she won the North American Outdoor Championship. Because of her accomplishments in the sport, Ashworth was inducted into the Speedskating Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs and the Lake Placid Hall of Fame.
After the Olympics in 1960, Jeanne was searching for a place to live and train, so she visited our area, camped out in South Meadow and rode a bike for transportation into town. She loved it here and decided to make her permanent home in Wilmington.
In 1999 Jeanne tried her hand at politics in the town of Wilmington, and won that race (without her skates), becoming supervisor of the town for the next eight years. During her years in office, she feels that her major accomplishments were: to obtain and implement a grant to improve and supply better drinking water; the repair of a vital dam; the revitalization of a waterfront; and the establishment of a visitors bureau, which has been working to improve Wilmington’s image as a destination, separate from Lake Placid.
In Lake Placid, Jeanne serves on the Board of the Olympic Winter Museum and on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. She continues to support environmental issues such as green energy and a change to clean fuel and wants to let people know that there will be an important conference, open to the public, at the Tupper Lake Wild Center on Nov. 18 and 19 to discuss climate change and global warming.