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Ski instructor ready to flip

Tim Mutrie

An Aspen Mountain ski instructor of 28 years will be performing as many flips as he can next ski season to raise research monies for the debilitating auto-immune disease, lupus.

Tommy Waltner, 49, gained approval from the Aspen Skiing Co. last week to launch the ski season-long fund-raiser, appropriately called “Loops for Lupus.” Waltner will be permitted to operate a “Loops for Lupus” tent at the base of the gondola, selling T-shirts and make information available. And, a table-top jump will be built near the base of the Little Nell ski run specifically for Waltner to do “Loops for Lupus,” he said.

Waltner’s mother-in-law is suffering from lupus, and when he and his wife, Joanie, began investigating treatment options, they were amazed at the lack of money being spent on research and patient care, he said.

It’s estimated that more than 12 million Americans are diagnosed with lupus, according to Waltner. It affects one out of 185 Americans, including one out of 102 women and one out of 62 African-American and Hispanic women. Lupus is more prevalent than AIDS, leukemia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined, according to Waltner.

Waltner said all of sudden he realized that he could make a difference, when a year ago, he came up with the “Loops for Lupus” fund-raiser idea. Waltner contacted the Guiness Book of World Records, thinking he could flip his way into the record books and in doing so, raise much-needed funding for Lupus research.

“They liked the idea, so they’re creating the criteria in the Guiness Book for me,” he said. “There’s nothing in there now about doing flips on skis, but there will be.”

Waltner claims to be both the youngest and oldest skier to pull a front flip – at ages 15 and 49, respectively – and hopes to land the most flips ever next season, he said.

“There are kids these days who are doing flips at a much younger age than 15, but whether they’re going to still do ’em at 50, who knows?” he said. “All of those records will be broken pretty quickly I think, but then again, I may one day feel like doing thirty or forty of them.

“I was a springboard diver and gymnast in high school,” Waltner said, “and as soon as I caught wind of Stein Eriksen doing flips, I started doing them,” he said.

That was the winter of 1965-66, in June Lake, Calif., and soon afterward, Waltner said he began his own aerial show. But once in his mid-twenties, Waltner stopped flipping out.

“I hadn’t done a flip in 26 years before this season,” he said. “You’ve just got to rely on natural ability and trust that you can still do it.”

Waltner said he isn’t exactly sure what form the “Loops for Lupus” fund-raising campaign will take, but said he’ll be doing at least a few flips every weekday.

Similarly, he said he hasn’t fixed a target sum for the campaign.

“We’re shooting for millions, because it’s going to be a year-long campaign and we’re really hoping this thing will snowball. We’d like to involve as many businesses and people as we can,” he said. “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 everyday.”

For additional information and/or to get involved with “Loops for Lupus,” call 927-3983.


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