Local skier takes to the air
With the goal of furthering research into the debilitating auto-immune disease lupus, veteran Ajax ski instructor Tommy Waltner is putting his own health on the line – or rather in the air – all season long.
The old-school-turned-new-school skier launched his crusade to raise millions for lupus research yesterday at the base of Aspen Mountain by landing the first of six “loops,” or aerial flips, on skis. And if all goes according to the flight plan, Waltner, at age 50, will turn two or three hundred loops by this time next year as part of his “Loops for Lupus” benefit campaign.
“I don’t think I’ll bend any more skis, I’ve got it down now – the last one I nailed,” he grinned. “It’s all a timing deal,” said Waltner after Tuesday’s aerials, as he bent his skis back to true following a few rough landings.
Yesterday’s kick-off event was complemented by a “Three Loop Circus” at the the Silver Circle Ice Rink in the late afternoon, which featured members of the Aspen Skating Club, the Silver City Gymnastics Club and the Aspen Team Ropers performing various loop interpretations.
Following the New Year, Waltner will launch loops on skis daily at the planned terrain park just above Bonnie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountain. And presently, he is accepting pledges from individuals and businesses interested in coming aboard to help raise money. The Lupus Foundation of Colorado teamed up with Loops for Lupus in mid-October, and since then, several other lupus organizations – along with corporate sponsors, such as Obermeyer – have signed on as well.
It’s estimated that more than 12 million Americans have lupus. It affects one in 185 Americans, including an estimated one in 102 women, and one in 62 African American and Hispanic women. It’s more prevalent than AIDS, leukemia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined, according to Waltner.
Like most people, lupus was a foreign concept to Waltner, until a few years ago when his mother-in-law was diagnosed with an acute case. And when Waltner and his wife Joanie began investigating treatment options, they came away shocked at the lack of funding dedicated toward lupus research and patient care.
Waltner said about a year ago, all of sudden he realized that he could make a difference, and Loops for Lupus was born. An avid skier since childhood, in the 1960s in California a young Waltner got word of the aerial stunts that the likes of Stein Eriksen, Tom Leroy and others were pulling off. Soon after, at 15, Waltner hucked his first flip on skis.
The Guiness Book of World Records is even considering creating a category for Walter: the youngest and oldest individual to perform the daring feat on skis, or so Waltner says. And while most new-school skiers these days more commonly throw back flips, Waltner -staying true to his roots – Waltner favors the tricky front flip.
“Front flips, that’s all we used to do in the old days,” he said.
“We’re shooting for millions, because it’s going to be a year-long campaign and we’re really hoping this thing will snowball,” Waltner said. “We’d like to involve as many businesses and people as we can. Another reason I really wanted to do this is for awareness – anytime women get a disease more than men, it stays in the closet – this should be an eye-opener. There’s a lot of people in this valley with lupus, and I’m meeting more every day.”
For additional information about Loops for Lupus, visit its Web site at http://www.loopsforlupus.org or call Waltner at 927-3983.
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