On a more serious note, Bill’s retirement party was last week and I really want to talk about the impact he has had on my life and the life of our team as a whole. For those of you who don’t know, Bill is the most accomplished American Nordic Combined skier ever. He has finished 3rd on the Overall World Cup twice with 9 victories and 21 podiums to his name. He also has 4 World Championship Medals and 2 Olympic Medals.
While Bill was accumulating all these successes, I was quickly falling in love with the sport of Nordic Combined at the base of Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I remember showing up for training on the weekends and my coaches Gary Crawford and Todd Wilson would be have huge grins running along their faces. They would describe Bill, Johnny, or Todd’s most recent heroics on the World Cup in Europe. At the time, that world seemed so far away. When seeing World Cup footage it almost seemed as if they were competing on a whole another planet. When Bill, Johnny, or Todd would make an appearance in Steamboat, I felt like I was at the Grammy’s except instead of walking along a red carpet they would take the poma lift to the top of the jumps. They were celebrities to me.
Growing up I was motivated by the veterans of our sport and I tried to emulate everything they did. By the time that I made the National Team however, most of these veterans had moved on. When I moved to Park City Nordic Combined had been cut from the US Ski Team. We had exactly 0 dollars in the budget and we weren’t sure what the future would hold. The morale on the team was low and everyone was very hurt by the US Ski Teams decision. This is where Bill stepped in and took over. His positivity was infectious and things began to look up for US Nordic Combined. Bill worked his ass off to raise enough money for our team to compete in Europe last winter. Not only that but he decided to postpone his retirement a year and compete. He did this in order to keep our 4th World Cup spot, as none of us younger athletes were ready for the World Cup yet. These sacrifices made by Bill in order to save the future of our team stunned me. He didn’t have to do any of this, but he chose to.
I had the opportunity to represent the USA at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden last winter. This was my 1st World Champs, it was Bill’s 8th. I remember when I was 11 years old my coaches showed me a video of Bill winning a World Championship medal in Japan. Eight years later I found myself sitting in the leaders seat during the jumping portion of the World Championships. Guess who ends up knocking me out of the leaders chair? None other than Billy Demong. That world that seemed so distant to me growing up, I was now living in it.