Chris Klug’s long and wild ride to the Ski Hall of Fame
BROOMFIELD, Colo. – When Chris Klug was a kid, he was inspired by U.S. Olympic heroes such as downhill racer Billy Johnson and skater Eric Heiden. He dreamed of someday being an Olympian himself but realized it was far-fetched.Klug was a 9-year-old skateboarder when he first witnessed snowboarding. He instantly knew he had to get into it. He was content to hit the slopes and pursue his passion. “I didn’t get into snowboarding to be in the Olympics,” said Klug, who was born in Aspen, grew up in Bend, Ore., and moved back to Aspen with his family soon after he graduated high school.Klug, 38, went on to become a three-time Olympian. He was on the U.S. team when snowboarding was first accepted as an Olympic sport in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. He finished sixth in the giant slalom. He went on to compete in the 2002 and 2010 games.His resume speaks for itself. Few athletes can perform at a top level long enough to compete in three Olympic games over 12 years. (He didn’t qualify for the team in 2006, when there was a dispute over qualifying rules.)But his story is even more remarkable because of the challenges he conquered along the way. He was diagnosed with a rare, slow-acting liver disease in the early 1990s. He competed with no problems in 1998, but by 2000 his life was in jeopardy.”My health was fading fast,” Klug said. He spent three months on a “critical” list for a liver transplant after working his way up the waiting list the prior six years. His opportunity came when a 13-year-old boy in Idaho suffered a fatal, accidental gunshot wound. His family donated organs that helped numerous people, including Klug.Most people didn’t think Klug would ever ride a snowboard again, let alone compete at the highest level. But Klug was back on the slopes seven weeks after the surgery, and he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in 2002 for the Salt Lake City Games, where he earned a bronze medal. He ended his racing career by appearing in the 2010 Games in Vancouver. He was the first ever transplant-recipient Olympian.His remarkable ride earned him a spot in the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Klug was inducted in the hall Friday night during a ceremony in Broomfield. “It’s amazing. It’s an honor,” he said.The Hall of Fame also honored the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club with the Top of the Hill award, which recognizes institutions that have contributed to the development of skiing in Colorado. The Aspen club is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. About 2,000 kids participate in its programs.Klug’s parents, Warren and Kathy, celebrated Chris’ induction with him, as did his wife, Missy, and their 6-month-old daughter, Bali. Klug said prior to the ceremony that it would be particularly rewarding because the parents of the boy who became Klug’s liver donor planned to attend.Longtime coach Rob Roy was to attend, as was colleague and 2010 coach Ian Price. Their presence is important, Klug said, because a segment of his acceptance speech focuses on the importance of teamwork to success in his snowboarding career.Klug was the second-youngest inductee in Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Klug’s friend and accomplished snowboarder Kevin Delaney was inducted at age 31, according to the hall’s executive director, Susie Tjossem.Klug said his friends have been giving him good-natured ribbing about the honor. “Some of them said, ‘I thought you had to be dead to get in there,'” Klug said.Klug is very much alive and making the most of it. He hits the slopes 100-plus times a winter, he said, and he participates in a gamut of winter and summer endurance sport competitions.Perhaps his biggest mark in life is helping people experiencing what he went through. He started the Chris Klug Foundation in 2003 to promote lifesaving donation and improvement of quality of life for donors, recipients and organ transplant candidates. The foundation will hold its sixth annual Aspen Summit For Life Dec. 9 and 10. More information is available at http://firstname.lastname@example.org
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