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Aspen’s Chris Klug brings inseparable bond to Olympics

Eddie Pells
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 file photo, Chris Klug, of the United States, turns around a gate during the World Cup snowboard parallel giant slalom qualification heat in Stoneham, Quebec, Canada. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
AP | AP

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia – From her home in Idaho, Kathy Flood will watch the Olympics – one Olympian, in particular.

Ten years ago, Flood’s 13-year-old grandson, Billie, was shot and killed in an accident in Colorado. Not far away, Aspen snowboarder Chris Klug was dying, on the short list for a life-or-death liver transplant. Because of timing and proximity, Billie’s liver went to Klug. Klug has been trying to repay the unrepayable favor ever since.

“Couldn’t be prouder of him if he were my own, that’s for sure,” Kathy Flood said.

The story reached an emotional high point at the Salt Lake City Olympics when, 19 months after the transplant, Klug captured the bronze medal in parallel giant slalom. He used duct tape to bind his broken boot to the board for the second race because, well, sometimes you just have to roll the dice and pray.

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The 37-year-old Klug is back at the Olympics this year, a long shot in Saturday’s PGS event at Cypress Mountain.

In the eight years since that great day in Park City, Utah, so much has changed in the lives of the family that saved Klug’s life.

Billie’s mother, Leisa, died suddenly when a blood clot broke loose.

His father, Rob, was killed in a hit-and-run accident while hitchhiking home on Memorial Day weekend in 2008.

His grandfather – Kathy Flood’s husband – passed away, too.

“The way I was raised, you learn to get through it for others,” Kathy Flood said. “If not, you might lose control yourself. It’s been especially hard since Rob died. I’ve been able to talk about it. But it was controlling my life. I finally started to not be so selfish, not too long ago.”

Klug, meanwhile, has spent most of his days trying to make the most of his gift.

The banner on his website, chrisklug.com, reads “Enjoy the ride – Don’t take a turn for granted.”

He started the Chris Klug Foundation and “Donor Dudes,” the goals of which are to spread the message about the importance of organ donation. He travels the country, and the world, giving speeches, headlining at fundraisers and, of course, using his snowboarding world as a platform to get the word out.

When Klug received Billie Flood’s liver in July 2000, he was one of about 80,000 people in the U.S. waiting for organ transplants – about 16 of whom died each day waiting for a call that didn’t come. Thanks to better awareness over the past decade, donation figures have risen, but so has the number of people on the waiting list – to nearly 106,000, according to figures from the United Network for Organ Sharing.

“It’s a curable problem,” Klug said. “If everyone in the country said ‘Yes,’ I believe it would eliminate the wait. So, it’s about educating. It’s a process.”

Klug has fought equally hard to keep his snowboarding career alive, in part because, without that, he loses his most formidable way of spreading the word.

The parallel giant slalom is the least popular of the snowboarding disciplines and funding for the second-tier athletes in PGS was among the first things to go about when money got tight about two years ago.

Klug responded by forming his own team, finding his own financing and coaches, then parlaying that into a return to the U.S. Olympic team after a disappointing near-miss in 2006.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about, and definitely one of the reasons I’m fired up about going to Vancouver, is to use that platform to trumpet the cause and get the word out there loud and clear,” he said.

Kathy Flood insists she’s been listening. And she’ll be watching Saturday.

She feels bad she won’t be there in person, the way she was that sunny day in Utah when Klug came down the hill for the win. The tears flowed freely. It was a win so many people could share.

“I know it’s not a manly thing to do,” Flood said, “but if you could give him a hug for me, I’d really appreciate that.”


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