Photo by John F. Russell
Members of Johnny Spillane's family, including mom Nancy, left center, and wife Hilary, right center, react after Johnny won silver medal in the normal hill individual Gundersen event at the Winter Olympics.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Whistler, British Columbia Hilary Spillane wasn’t this nervous on their wedding day.
Nancy Spillane could barely breathe, her emotions going from perma-grins to uncontrollable crying when thinking about her son’s accomplishment. Jim Spillane was living each pole plant and stride with his son. Sam Spillane — Johnny’s brother — said it might have been the best day of his life.
Johnny Spillane’s silver medal win Sunday in Whistler, British Columbia, gave America its first-ever Olympic medal in Nordic combined, ending a drought that lasted 86 years.
But for the Spillane family, Sunday meant so much more.
“I was right there skiing with him,” Jim said. “You’re there living it with him. You’re jumping up and down and doing stuff you don’t normally do. You’re riding it out with them.”
The voice of each Spillane was a little raspy, as family members realized what had just happened. They said the public doesn’t know how shy Johnny is, how humble he is and how hard he works.
They are the only people who saw him, each day, leave his cabin at 4 a.m. to go train. Hilary said when the two met in 2005 at a bar in Park City, Utah, Johnny was too shy to talk to her.
At that point, Hilary had no idea the turn her life would take. She didn’t know Johnny was a world champion or had the chance to be a future Olympic medalist.
“I didn’t know what Nordic combined was,” Hilary said. “He told me he was a ski jumper, I was like, ‘Oh, you do flips?’ Wrong answer.”
But it might have been Johnny’s family that made the biggest difference in him. Johnny’s injury history has been well documented. He’s had multiple surgeries and always seemed to be rehabbing.
But this fall, with his knee still healing, Johnny found something that put him at ease. Johnny and Sam spent the fall doing what brothers do. They went hunting and fishing.
The two have a special bond.
Johnny saved Sam’s life in a hunting accident years ago — something Nancy said always will be the family’s best day.
So this fall, the two brothers, Johnny walking with a cane, spent hours together hunting.
It helped put things in perspective for Johnny. It helped his body heal, but maybe most importantly, it showed him what really mattered.
“We’re close,” Sam said, struggling to not smile. “Right now to think back to when we were hunting and he had a cane. He was wobbling up the hill, and that was September. Now to be here? Wow.
“But we’ve elk hunted together every year,” Sam continued. “We did it again this year. We did a bunch of duck hunting. When he was rehabbing, he couldn’t always go out and train as hard as he wanted, (but) we could always stand in the river and duck hunt.”
Sam kept mentioning how much things changed in just a few months.
“To be here at this point from where we were in September is just unreal,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming into this. But it worked out. It worked out great.”
Sure, the guy won the first Olympic medal in Nordic combined in America’s history, but for the Spillanes, his life achievements are about more than a piece of silver.
Johnny’s an Olympic champion, but he’s also a world-class husband, son and brother. To the Spillanes, that’s what matters most.