Luke Graham: Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane leaves lasting mark

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— You could just tell.

His voice wasn’t the same, and he sounded tired. It was on a Skype call in early January when Johnny Spillane and his wife, Hilary, were in Russia on a “work vacation.”

It marked the couple’s first trip away from their daughters, Hadley and Genevieve, in years.

The Spillanes were happy to be together, but there was that trepidation in his voice. He answered every question honestly and thoughtfully. The couple was sincere about what it had been like to raise a family with one member darting from country to country, late night Skype chats becoming a saving grace.

I could tell that Spillane’s career wasn’t at the forefront anymore. There was a family at home that he didn’t want to be away from. It was apparent in his low tone and retrospective answers that his heart wasn’t in it. He simply wanted to be home.

He announced Wednesday that he would retire from the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, a career that not only shaped Spillane, but also the sport itself.

Inevitably, a career comes down to moments and snapshots.

The highlights define success. The lowlights point to failures.

But it’s in these moments, we can piece together Spillane’s amazing career.

It’s easy to look at the highlights: the World Championship win, the World Cup podiums and the Olympic medals.

But what made Spillane such an interesting and profound athlete — one of Steamboat’s greatest — wasn’t just his ability on skis. Throughout everything, Spillane’s career was defined as much by his accomplishments as by his personality.

It’s easy to say that when wrapping up a career, to say he was a good guy, that people liked him and that he surrounded himself with good people. It’s easy to make it a warm and fuzzy story.

But for Spillane and his family, it’s true.

There are moments that stick out: It was watching his mom, Nancy, run around and hug anyone in sight after he won his first silver medal at the 2010 Olympics. It was his brother, Sam, smiling with pride at every moment. It was Hilary with Hadley and Genevieve in a wagon at the bottom of Howelsen Hill after another summer jumping session with Spillane stopping by after each jump.

Those moments tell you about a family. And now Spillane’s moments will be spent somewhere in the Yampa Valley, likely along the river and in the woods, with Hadley in one arm and Genevieve in the other.

Late night Skype calls be damned.

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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