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ON THE SCENE: Wanna be an Olympian?

September 10, 2015
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Unofficially the Lake Placid region has sent more people to the Olympics than any other community and, on a per capita basis, probably to a far greater degree than any other could ever hope to equal. That strength, in just skiers alone, is now on display at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum's new exhibit, "Learning to Ski: Memories of Olympic Skiers."

The exhibit opened on Sept. 4. Several of the athletes featured shared how they got their start and the importance of their family, friends, and the community in achieving their success. The exhibit reflects the continuing shift of the museum from displaying objects to focusing on people involved in the Olympic movement.

The community's connection to the Winter Olympics goes back to the first games held in Chamonix, France in 1924 wherein the first gold medal awarded in the Games was to speed skater Charles Jewtraw of Lake Placid. Jewtraw practiced on the Mill Pond in his youth, often first having to shovel a path to skate on. He was supported and mentored by the late Henry Uihlein, a seasonal resident whose legacy includes a foundation that continues to support aspiring local athletes.

Article Photos

Olympians James (Jim) Shea Sr., Jay Rand, Joe Pete Wilson, Lowell Bailey and Annelies Cook
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

No athlete from here has made it on his or her own. Many expressed their inspiration by others who had gone before them as two-time gold medalist Jack Shea often did of Jewtraw. That inspiration was not always from one skater or skier to another; speed skater Jack Shea's son Jim became an Olympic skier, and his son Jimmy won the gold in skeleton.

Legendary skating coach Gus Lussi was a ski jumper in his youth, yet turned to training skaters with several of his students going on to compete successfully on the national and international level. Warren Witherell, one of the great water ski champions of all time, became a highly successful ski coach at Northwood School and later Burke Mountain Academy. Twenty-five of the youth he coached became World Champions, and 15 competed in the Olympics.

Family support has equally been vital. While her daughter Nina just missed making the Olympic team, Martina Lussi was in Sochi volunteering at the ski jumps. Lussi serves on the board of the Eastern Ski Jumping & Nordic Combined Foundation, and was recently elected to the United States Ski Association board, a level of commitment to supporting athletes similar to that given by the Weibrechts, Demongs, Frenettes, Sheas and other family members today as did Jay Rand's, Joe Lamb's, and Jim Page's parents in the past.

"I am so proud to have my brother Jim be a part of this exhibit," said Georgia Page. "The display is so well done. My brother was so competitive. He got that competitiveness from our father. My brother loved competing and being really, really good at something. He worked at it, he did it, and now he is giving back. He's worked for the United States Olympic Committee for years, and he'll be coming here in October to join a board that will enable him to further support this community."

Reflecting the title of former New York Senator Clinton's book, "It Take a Village," it takes the broader support of a community and its many volunteers who provide housing and food to athletes, serve as judges and officials, set gates, and provide ambulance and other support services to assist our young athletes on their way. The Lake Placid Hall of Fame is filled with the names of men and women who have volunteers thousands of hours supporting athletes, organizing competitions, and giving their time and treasure to support the dreams and aspirations of local kids in whatever discipline that may be. Many of these same volunteers are themselves former athletes, people who know the amount of frustration, falls, lonely moments, hard work, pain and perseverance it takes to get to the National, World and Olympic level.

Jay Rand shared his appreciation of the many people who worked so hard and had given so much to create the Olympic Museum, and to support the local athletes. He said he got his start as a jumper when at 4 years old he took his mother's skis, slid straight down a hill near Grandview Avenue, and off a wall. "I didn't get hurt and decided this is kind of fun," he said. "I did it over and over. My mother came down and became my biggest fan." From there, after a stint of jumping over at Old MacDonald's Farm, he joined the Junior Jumping program under the guidance of John Viscome and Bud Colby.

"I'd like to be an Olympian one day," said Ruby LaDew, 11, confirming that she'd like to see her face up on the wall in the museum one day. "Meeting the Olympians is pretty cool. Right now I compete in Ski Cross and Moguls. I've been skiing since I was two."

Olympic Museum director Alison Haas was inspired to organize the exhibit the day she first took her then 18-month-old daughter skiing. 'I thought, "You know, we live in such a remarkable area that you never know that some day she may come to be an Olympian,'" said Haas. "That got me thinking about what does make an Olympic skier. I didn't know the answer. I started contacting our local ski Olympians and asking about their memories of how they started. I learned that there is no single one thing; that there are a multitude of factors. Hearing their memories gave me the idea for the exhibit."

"My inspiration was just having fun with Tim and Lowell growing up," said Annelies Cook. "They were a big motivator for me because we had a good time plus I had a lot of friends in the sport. Here when you grow up skiing, people say, 'Oh, do you want to go to the Olympics?' You see people you know going to the Olympics and you think if they can do it, I can do it. It doesn't seem to be an impossible goal. I think it's more important to be stubborn than anything else, and if you have a community that backs you up while your being stubborn, you think, 'I've got a chance.'"

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is located at the Olympic and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 518-302-5326 or visit their website at www.lpom.org.

 
 

 

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