Local celebrity honored with regional award

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— Former NCAA ski champion Sally Knight-Utter beat out a group of eight other elite skiers, including Steamboat Springs' own Billy Kidd, for the National Texaco Star Award.

The announcement that Knight-Utter had won the honor came during an award luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City Sunday.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," Kidd said of not winning. "The other people who are nominated for this award have contributed a lot more to the sport and to their communities than I have."

Kidd said the Texaco Award has become prestigious in its short two-year history. The winner earns a check for $10,000, which is given to the charity of his or her choice. But Kidd said the honor is impressive because it is not based on a skier's ability or results on the slopes, but instead on an athlete's dedication to give back to the community.

In Knight-Utter's case, the money will be used to expand the services at Camp ForMe, a weeklong day camp that operates at the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont and benefits adopted children. Knight-Utter, who was adopted herself, was a U.S. Ski Team member in the 1980s before enrolling at the University of Vermont, where she was an All-American skier for four years. After retiring, she dedicated her time, efforts and money to developing a camp for adopted children with special needs.

While Kidd did not win the national award this year, he was among a group of five skiers to get regional honors. His 2000 nomination will also make him eligible to win the award when it is handed out again in 2001.

The local legend was named a regional finalist for the Texaco Star because of his involvement with the Special Olympics program for the past two decades. Kidd helped to bring the first Special Olympics Winter Games to Steamboat back in 1977. Since then he dedicated much of his time to Special Olympic programs.

Kidd was given a $2,500 check in the name of Special Olympics at a regional presentation in Park City on Nov. 3.

"Billy was an obvious regional choice for the Texaco Star Award based on his volunteer efforts with Special Olympics," Polly Rua said. Rua is the senior manager of sponsorships for Texaco. "This award symbolizes Texaco's commitment to recognize our responsibility to the communities around the world in which we do business, and Billy exemplifies that same commitment."

Kidd grew up in Stowe, Vt., and was a mainstay of the U.S. Ski Team throughout the 1960s. Kidd won the gold medal in the combined at the World Championships in 1970 before he turned professional. He won the World Pro title a short time later. He has also acted as the Steamboat Ski Area's director of skiing for the last 30 years.

"To be honored in the same program that honored Jimmie Heuga (the 1999 Texaco Star winner) is a great pleasure," Kidd said. "I discovered Special Olympics in 1977. I'm particularly proud of the way Steamboat families welcome athletes into their homes and support the program, which encourages and empowers these special people. I'm accepting the (regional) honor on behalf of the thousands of other volunteers who have helped Special Olympics impact the lives of people around the world."

Kidd's assistant Hollis Brooks said the former U.S. Ski Team member doesn't think of himself as a hero for working with the Special Olympians, and she was not surprised that he feels as if the other nominees deserve the honor more than himself.

"He's very modest about what he has done," Brooks said. "But he does deserve this honor. He is out there on the slopes skiing with the athletes and he is in the lodge helping them buckle their boots. He is very involved with the program, and it's a big part of his life."

The Texaco Star Award, now in its second year, honors U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team alumni for their hard work and dedication off the slopes in the area of community service through volunteer efforts, leadership and community outreach programs.

In addition to Special Olympics, Kidd also started a program called "Future Olympians" last winter. The idea is to introduce young Native American athletes to the sport of skiing and invite them back into the Yampa Valley their native land. Last year he invited two groups of Ute Indians from Utah to his home and introduced them to the sport of skiing. He also hosted a group this summer.

"The Ute Indians were in the Yampa Valley first, but many of them got thrown out to a reservation in Utah," Kidd said. "This is a way to welcome them back to the area and introduce them to the sport of skiing."

Kidd said he is also hoping his program will encourage more Native American athletes to consider representing the United States at the Winter Olympic Games in the future.

The award is also special to Kidd because Heuga, his former teammate and good friend, won the first Texaco Star Award last year. Heuga, who won a medal at the 1964 Winter Games before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, founded the Jimmie Heuga Center in Vail. The center helps people suffering from multiple sclerosis by promoting a "can-do" philosophy and encouraging people with MS to lead healthy, active lives.

Finalists for this year's award included Kidd, Dave McCoy, Marcia Skaro, Paula Kaaan Valar and Greg Windsperger. Finalists from 1999 who were also eligible to win in 2000 included Jeff Pagels, Susie Harris-Rytting and the winner, Knight-Utter.

"This is a great award because it brings out so many great stories," Kidd said. "There are a lot of skiers out there doing great things these awards bring attention to their efforts."

To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@amigo.net

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