A Tribute to My Friend, Jimmie Heuga
The public relations business requires that its practitioners promote, protect, market, and manage the reputation of a product, service, company, or in some instances, a single person.
At the heart of the PR business is careful management of media coverage and public opinions.
In my 25 years of work in the PR business, spanning promotion of complicated high-tech products, building materials, transportation projects, recreation services, health services and a myriad of Internet businesses, the greatest job I ever had in the PR/marketing business was assisting in the promotion of the man Jimmie Heuga, and the Jimmie Heuga Center.
Being hired as part of the Heuga Center, as its PR Director, was a indeed a privilege. Joining Jimmie and all his supporters in promoting the philosophies and programs of the Center quickly became so much more than a job. It became an avocation. A labor of love. A train ride.
I recall during one of my first chats with Jimmie, he said, “Ya know, Eric, the Center is growing, we have plans to do a lot more, and expand nationally. You’re our first designated PR man. You can keep the job if you can accomplish one thing: make those media people spell my name right! It’s Jimmie with an “ie,” not a “y.” Then he flashed that incomparable smirk and walked out of my office.
After just a few weeks working with Jimmie, I knew my work was indeed part of a shared mission. It was never difficult to get up in the morning to go to work at the Heuga Center. It was, however, often difficult to feel like the day’s work was done, even as darkness fell each night. We had only to watch Jimmie and the grueling schedules he would keep to squeeze a few more hours of work out of ourselves each night.
I cannot count the number of friends I gained through working alongside him to help people fighting MS. The experiences shared with co-workers, the tireless fund raising efforts, the long winter seasons traveling from ski resort to ski resort to make each SKI EXPRESS event as successful as possible. The national media promotions, interviews and partnerships. The special events and dinners.
As staff people at the Heuga Center, we occupied an interesting position. We were the intermediaries between legions of the greatest friends, volunteers and donors in the world, and the people around the United States who were searching for some hope in dealing with the ravages of multiple sclerosis.
Fueling it all, inspiring it all was Jimmie Heuga. Jimmie was our spiritual and enigmatic leader. He was the fulcrum of this great, unique, developing storm against multiple sclerosis. The momentum was unstoppable as more and more people found out about who Jimmie was, what he sought to do, and how he was doing it.
The most rewarding part of my job, as with my various other nonprofit, human-service jobs, was seeing the human benefit that resulted from all the public support, fund raising events and work of the staff, volunteers, and board members. That was what fueled my energy for the years I worked for the Heuga Center.
I watched countless inspirational talks by Jimmie, in front of numerous and diverse audiences across the U.S. But the best talks were those between him and the people he understood so intimately—the participants in the medical programs—other people who had MS.
I witnessed the sense of yearning, desire, hopelessness, despair, frustration, anxiety, uncertainty, anger and fatigue in the folks who signed up or were sponsored to attend the Heuga CAN DO programs.
After five days in the program, assistance from the many talented health and wellness specialists, and daily interaction with Jimmie, these people’s outlooks, spirits, and energy were lifted out of the mire. They were changed human beings.
They were now hopeful, enabled, confident, eager again to continue their lives within the limitations of MS. Now they were oriented toward what they still COULD DO; the focus was no longer on the limitations. The Heuga Center gave them the individualized templates they needed to live again. To love life again. To cope and prosper. And it was all borne out of what Jimmie experienced and did for himself in his mid-20s, when MS cut short his promising competitive skiing career.
After witnessing this miracle time after time, program after program, I was equipped with the tools, the beliefs, the buy-in, the motivation and a clear awareness of mission to perform what I consider to this day my most meaningful and rewarding public relations, marketing and fund raising work.
As Jimmie’s PR guy, I had something most PR people never have…..a tireless, talented, dedicated, inspirational, extremely kind and likable PR machine. The Jimmie Heuga Express.
His life story, his revolutionary, iconoclastic ideas about dealing with MS, his vision and plan and mission, coupled with his undeniable magnetism, resulted in thousands of changed lives.
Even for those of us who don’t have MS, if you ever met the man, if you had the privilege of spending time with him, learning from him, and watching him do his magic in life, you are now a richer person. You’ll forever be on board the Jimmie Heuga Express.
High on the Winner’s Podium
I was fortunate enough to spend time near a man in Colorado who possessed enviable courage and inspired countless people around the world to live productive and meaningful lives.
He transferred his exuberance for skiing into an exuberance for living daily life, despite the debilitating constraints imposed on him by Multiple Sclerosis.
His courage and his smile were infectious. He rallied so many toward his cause and created a family of supporters, a family of friends, all of whom loved him dearly.
With his bright outlook, his witty humor, his energy, his tireless dedication to helping others with their MS, and his daily endurance of his own MS, Jimmie Heuga became a champion in life.
Yet that champion would happily engage in a personable conversation with anyone he met, anywhere, anytime. He even offered a ride to my hitchhiking brother one cold Colorado night in the 1970s, along a dark road in Vail. He was just a great guy, a great local in the Vail Valley. My brother had no idea he got a ride from an Olympic champion.
His reach in life was enormous. His impact immeasurable. He touched so many lives.
But what will endure most for me is his simple, inspirational and transformational message of hope. He helped me develop a strength within my own self when I was a young man; he became a mentor. I will always strive to keep the lessons Jimmie taught me through his example foremost in my mind:
“There is no need to complain about your woes in life, …… cope with them, be strong, focus on what you CAN DO, not on what you CANNOT.”
1943 – 2010