Longtime internist Dr. Barry Mink inducted into Aspen Hall of Fame
Dr. Barry Mink’s retirement has been fairly uneventful for the past four years, but that all changed this past fall when he got a call informing him he was being inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame.
“I was totally surprised,” he said this week, joking that inductees are typically reaching the end of their days. “I guess they figured I was close to broken.”
But joking aside, Mink, 78, expressed his gratitude to be included in a long list of elite Aspenites who have collectively made this community what it is.
“I was very honored,” he said. “I love Aspen. It’s a great town.”
A Chicago native, Mink first discovered Aspen on a ski trip he was invited on by a friend when they were serving stateside in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
He and his wife, Peggy, didn’t know how to ski but they fell in love with the place immediately.
That was 1974 and Mink had already completed medical school at Northwestern University and became a physician specializing in internal medicine.
Ski instructor John Callahan encouraged Mink to speak with Dr. Whitcomb about a possible job here. The two hit it off and Mink joined the Aspen Clinic.
That began a long career for Mink and the start of many friendships that still last decades later.
Mink’s impact on the community started almost immediately as the new cardiologist in town.
He realized that Aspen Valley Hospital and ski patrol was lacking adequate cardiac care. So he established an acute cardiac care unit and better management of cardiac and medical emergencies.
Nurses received training to identify and treat cardiac events, and Mink became a medical advisor for ski patrol, encouraging EMT certification so they could perform resuscitation methods on the hill.
Facing pushback from the Aspen Skiing Co. to outfit ski patrol with defibrillators due to electricity use and the exposure of liability, Mink eventually was able to convince the powers-that-be to enable patrollers to save lives with technology.
The first person to be saved on the hill using a defibrillator was named Howard who was a visitor to Aspen, Mink said.
An annual award for the best pre-hospital save was named in his honor, and when the “Howard Award” was presented each year, he came for the presentation.
Mink was an all-conference high school quarterback and all-state baseball catcher, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds whom he played for for three years until a freak shoulder accident playing flag football had him sitting on the bench.
He also was a competitive Nordic skier, cyclist and runner, completing many ultra marathons, 100-mile races and competing in national ski races.
Mink was known as a pioneer in sports medicine locally, nationally and internationally. In 1977, local doctor Robert Odén, who was an orthopedic physician, asked him to assist him with the U.S. Ski Team, tapped him.
For nearly two decades, Mink served as a physician for the U.S. Biathlon Team. He was chosen as chief medical officer and U.S. team physician to accompany the Olympic team to the 1980 and 1994 winter games.
With Tage Pedersen from the U.S. Alpine team and fellow Aspenites Dr. Balke and Dr. Anthony, Mink formed Aspen’s first sports medicine institute at the Aspen Club in the 1980s.
It focused on helping local and national athletes recover from sports-related injuries and improve their performance.
Lorna Pedersen, who is an Aspen Hall of Fame board member and the daughter of Tage, said she remembers Mink helping young athletes in the community at no charge.
“My memory of what he did was really taking an interest in the high school athletes,” she said.
Mink also supported young skiers from the Rocky Mountain Nordic and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club with their medical problems and training.
His dream was to help advance performance of athletes so they might reach their true potential in cross-country skiing. Many of the skiers went on to perform at the collegiate level and beyond, earning spots on World Cup and Olympic teams, according to the Aspen Hall of Fame’s biography on Mink.
“A lot of this was driven by my interests,” he said.
At AVH, Mink was the chief of medicine and chief of staff. He was elected to the AVH board of directors for three, four-year terms and served as president for one.
He, along with the board, shepherded a near bankrupt hospital into financial stability and enabled AVH to complete an expansion.
Mink retired in 2013, which has been a blessing and curse, he said.
“At first it was great because there were no responsibilities, the pressure was off,” he said. “But I miss my patients.”
He said he’s taken up golf and plays once a week with the old timers, two of whom also are Aspen Hall of Fame inductees.
In the winter, Mink alpine or Nordic skis and plays chess on the computer, and he and Peggy spend a lot of time together.
He said he’s been thinking about volunteering, or becoming a baseball coach.
Shortly before Mink retired, he published a fictional book called “A Second Chance”, which could be what his life might have been — an old baseball player returning to the sport at age 65.
His three daughters and their children will be there, as well as many of his patients and those he helped through his community dedication.
“I’m thankful,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy.”
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