Chisholm Ski Club, Rumford, ME
New England College
Park CIty, UT, et al
MORE THAN A MILKMAN
It was the fall of 1982 and I had just arrived in Tabernash, Colorado to begin a coaching career that would span nearly 35 years. Fresh out of New England College (Henniker, NH) and the Chisholm Ski Club (Rumford, ME), Alan Johnson coerced me to join him in Winter Park to help coach ski jumpers and Nordic combined skiers enrolled in the Winter Park Competition Center program and that’s when I met the ‘milkman’.
Though I never received a gallon of milk from this guy or saw him actually deliver the wholesome beverage to anyone’s doorstep, I knew it to be true because he said it to the film crew and interviewer while standing on the side of a Winter Park ski jump disseminating his knowledge of ski jumping to young ski jumpers who would someday become Olympians! At the time, CHUCK HECKERT was working for a friend in Granby to help deliver milk but his true calling was standing on a coaching stand or in the judges tower sharing a love of flying for so many in our beloved ski community.
Every club has a Chuck Heckert; but not every club has a ‘Heckert Highway’! Chuck turned his passion for ski jumping into a career. It wasn’t simply a job for Chuck, it was his calling. While working with those future Olympians, karting them around the country and Canada (more on that momentarily), he managed to develop relationships with fellow flying enthusiasts through his grandiose smile and oversized heart!
I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to travel all over the world with this guy. Oh ya, Canada? Well, this is the one time Chuck really messed up! He and I loaded our other loves (Jannette and Shannon) into a couple 15 passenger vans loaded with young, aspiring, smelly jumpers and Nordic combined skiers and headed to Calgary for a training camp. 12 hours into our journey we make a fuel stop at a convenience store in the middle of Nowhere, Canada. All’s good; tanks are topped off, bladders are empty, vans are full of junk food (we were bad coaches until Walter Steiner landed in our backyard) and we’re headed to Calgary. About an hour later, just outside of Lethbridge, I hear Chuck on the walkie-talkie (no cell phones back then) ‘you got Kip?’. My reply: ‘why would I have Kip (Lutu), he’s been in your van since we left Steamboat 12 hours ago?!!!’. Chuck left a 12 year boy in a convenience store in the middle of Nowhere, Canada! Becky (mom) would have his hide! Lucky for us, we found Kip sitting behind the counter with the clerk eating more candy than was packed away in the 2 vans. You were lucky, Chuck!
Then there was Alaska. Right; what happens in Alaska, stays in Alaska. You’re secret is safe with me, Chuck!
Chuck had a little fever for the gambling lifestyle. He and Jannette would often head west to try their luck in Wendover and one time they headed east to St. Moritz, Switzerland (Chuck was judging some international event) and the three of us hit the town to hit the jackpot. We missed the jackpot but we didn’t miss the booze. Deep down Chuck was hoping to win big. If he had, you know USA Nordic would have been a major recipient (sorry Scott & Dan.)
Chuck did win big, however. He married the love of his life and spent 50+ years with Jannette. He raised Scott and Dan and supported them in many ways but mostly love. We all won big as well because we knew Chuck. We didn’t carry the Olympic Torch, Chuck carried it for us! His love and dedication to ski jumping was inspiring. His attention to safety on the hill, fairness to the athletes, knowledge of the rules made him the absolute top dog on the Olympic ski jumping venue for the 2002 working under Alan Johnson and the Olympic Organizing Committee. The games and every event under his watchful eyes were world-class, like the man himself.
When his employment ended following the 2002 games, this is when Chuck Heckert showed who he really was. As a volunteer, there wasn’t an event that took place at Utah Olympic Park without Chuck on the side of the hill or in the judges’ tower. If he did miss an event it was only because cancer had sidelined him. ‘F’ing cancer; Chuck should have left us many years ago but he kicked cancer’s butt for 15+ years so that he could continue to love his wife, kids, grandchildren and ski jumping. Remember earlier I said, ‘every club has a Chuck Heckert’? I take it back; this guy was THE gold medalist for USA Ski Jumping and should be the envy of every club throughout the nation!
Chuck was indeed, ‘More than a Milkman’. He touched everyone in our USA community and he left his mark on friends from every ski jumping country around the globe. He mentored kids, coaches and officials and we are better for having crossed his path. The ski jumping community will miss you as you soar the heavens, dear friend.