Denver — Smiles and heroes – there were plenty Saturday night as 18 past and present Olympians reunited in Denver for Mile High Medals. It was an evening of pride for five 2010 Olympic and Paralympic medalists mixed with the joy and wondering eyes of kids who got to touch and feel a real Olympic medal at the unique fundraising event.
With the Vancouver Olympics in the record books, Mile High Medals kicked off the ramp up to the 2011 season, as well as the first steps of the journey to Sochi in 2014. The sold-out Denver event was a fundraiser for the athletes of the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding at the suburban Denver home of Team trustee Eric Resnick.
The star-studded lineup included Colorado’s own Olympic medal winners, nordic combined silver medalist Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO), alpine gold and bronze winner Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and Paralympian Alana Nichols (Winter Park, CO), who took home four medals including two gold. They were joined by freestyle medalists Shannon Bahrke (Tahoe City, CA) and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson (Boise, ID).
The athletes were greeted by a host of guests including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and Denver’s Mayor John Hickenlooper. The mayor commended the athletes for their accomplishments and the excitement they brought to the sport during the month of February.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was a kids obstacle course race, where aspiring Olympians pivoted around on a snowboard, ran through slalom gates, hopped from mogul to mogul and ended with a mini-tramp flip.
“We had a great time in Denver and the kids ROCKED it in the obstacle course,” said Peterson, whose team finished second in the finals to Bahrke’s squad. “It was cool to see how well they worked together as a team to finish the race.”
“I have to brag a little because my team of kids won the obstacle course,” said Bahrke. “We were the purple people eaters and we just ate the other competition up! The kids especially loved it when Lindsey Vonn put a gold medal around their neck.”
Vail’s Vonn told the kids and adults alike about her own personal journey, starting as a young girl on a tiny ski hill in Minnesota, encouraging the kids to follow their dreams just as she did. Paralympic champ Nichols, who was paralyzed nine years ago in a snowboarding accident, was inspirational as she talked about what it meant to her to accompany First Lady Michelle Obama on a school visit in Washington just a few days earlier. Likewise, Steamboat’s Lodwick spoke about how humbled and proud he was to share his Olympic silver medal with American troops earlier this month on the Heavy Medal Tour in Southwest Asia.
Olympic silver medalist and World Champion Billy Kidd, proudly shared his medals with the kids, chanting his familiar 1-2-3-SKIING as cameras snapped pictures of the smiles. Other Olympic medalists included 1992 moguls bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael of Steamboat Springs and 1976 downhill bronze medalist Cindy Nelson of Vail.
“Getting to meet the kids as well as the parent’s was really special for me,” said Olympian Heather McPhie, who was second in season-long World Cup. “A big part of what I want to do is get or keep kids excited about skiing and snowboarding.”
Kids and athletes have an amazing ability to connect, as the Olympians quickly learned. “One of my favorite lines of the night was from one of the kids who said he would be on my basketball team [Utah Jazz] as long as I didn’t tell his dad, a huge Denver Nuggets fan,” said Peterson.
The event benefited the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation, one of the primary sources of support for Olympic athletes who, unlike many of their counterparts in other nations, get no government support.
“Our athletes rely on Americans to send Americans to the Olympics,” said Foundation leader Trace Worthington, himself a former freestyle World Champion and Olympian. “Events like Mile High Medals are vital as we begin final preparation for Sochi in 2014.”
“Eric and Sara Resnick are amazing for hosting such a great event and volunteering countless hours of their time to help us be able to continue to do what we love,” said McPhie.
“Everyone at Mile High Medals had such a passion for skiing and the U.S. Ski Team and followed us on our journey to Vancouver,” said Bahrke. “As an athlete, that means the world to me.”