Downhill legend Bill Johnson’s 50th birthday comes with a lesson in kindness and charity

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on March 30, 2010 3:57 pm

Today the American downhill legend Bill Johnson celebrates his 50th birthday.  A special birthday that comes with an equally special message.

From tragedy comes charity.  Bill Johnson, America’s first man to win a gold medal in ski racing, has suffered much tragedy in his life.  In 2001, Johnson hit the comeback trail at the age of 40 in an attempt to win back all that he had lost.  His ex-wife and two sons lived hundreds of miles away.  The adulation and money that comes with being a downhill champion was decades away.

Johnson’s comeback did not have a Disney ending.  Instead a horrific crash at Big Mountain, Montana, changed Bill’s life forever.

Over the past couple years, the physical decline for Johnson has been rapid.  As more folks become aware of Johnson’s present day struggles, the beautiful act of charity is exhibited by total strangers.

Tim Vincent and family have run a small independent cranberry farm in Bandon, Oregon for 60 years.  Vincent Family Cranberries, “cultivated with love and pride” the tagline says.

Johnson will soon be outfitted with a new motorized wheelchair.  But, that chair does not arrive until late April, leaving DB Johnson, Bill’s mother, with a serious dilemma.  A problem made all the more stressful when the urgent need is for one’s own son.  Enter Mr. Vincent, proving the Vincent Family Cranberries tagline to be an anomaly in advertising: it’s true. 

Vincent had a chair very similar to the one Bill will be receiving soon.  And as DB explains, “By the end of the conversation, Tim wanted to give it to Bill for as long as he needs it, along with some other things used by a relative who now must have full time care and can’t use anything any longer.  This man stepped out of his van and made a lunge my way to give me the biggest hug.  And then his little boy came around and did the same thing.  They were huge fans of Bill’s and only wanted to meet him and get an autograph, after bringing it to Bill’s door.
“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen, and we are so very grateful.”

Vincent relays, “It was emotional.  I feel like it made a greater impact on DB than Bill.  He had fun just talking about the trophies and telling us stories.  For DB it was more profound.  This gift is not just for Bill, it was for this family.”

“My father-in-law has been in a wheelchair his whole life.  I understand what people must deal with with immobility.  The layman who sees someone in a wheelchair, they think, ‘Oh it’s nice they can get around the grocery store.’  But it’s so much more than that.  It’s the ability to make it from the living room to the bathroom.”

It’s clear that Johnson’s Sarajevo performance made an impact on Vincent, a lifetime Oregonian.  “I was 14 in 1984, the year Bill won his gold medal.  Being from Oregon, it was a massive deal.  For me, remembering that run is like yesterday.”

On May 2, Vincent Family Cranberries is launching an all-natural cranberry juice.  Tim did not want me to pump up his business in this article, but I think folks want to support good people doing good things.  Check out and believe that the juice will indeed be cultivated with love and pride.

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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