John F. Russell: Good neighbor, great role model | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: Good neighbor, great role model

Some of us can spend our entire life looking for a positive role model.

You know — the kind of person who can tell you the best way to live your life without words, or lectures. The kind of person who reaches out without hands, yet touches us in a way that guides us to new heights. The type of person who spends their life pursuing their goals and inspires us all to chase our own.

For some, that person might be a teacher, for others it might be a high school or ski coach, and for others it is a professional athlete. But for Steamboat Springs' Johnny Spillane, who won silver medals in the Normal Hill Individual Gundersen event Feb. 14 and the team event Tuesday, that person was his next-door neighbor.

When Spillane was growing up in Steamboat Springs, his parents' home was right next door to the Jarretts' home. At the time, the Jarretts' son Dave was one of the top skiers on the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and had even competed at the Olympics.

For Johnny, it was like living next door to one of the biggest names in his sport. I guess it would be like growing up next door to Troy Aikman if you played football, or Alex Rodriguez if you played baseball. Only Dave was a little more approachable.

Dave, who was a few years older than Johnny, used to hand down skis, clothing and hope to the young neighbor who longed to follow in his ski tracks.

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"He was a big influence on me when I was younger, for sure," Johnny said last week. "He was always around. It was great to see someone with that much natural talent, someone that worked that hard to get to the top."

Dave, who was a member of the U.S. team from 1992 to 1998, retired from the team after the Nagano Olympics. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in exercise physiology in 2000 but was drawn back to the team as a coach. He worked with juniors at Soldier Hollow and rejoined the U.S. Nordic combined team in 2002 as the World Cup B coach.

He came to the team hoping to shape the next generation of Nordic combined stars, but the truth is that Jarrett had influenced one of his sport's rising superstars long before he started coaching.

After winning his medal Feb. 14, Johnny honored his neighbor, whom he has looked up to for most of his life, with the United States Olympic Committee's Order of Ikkos medallion. The medallion, which is presented to the personal coaches of Olympic/Paralympic medalists, represents the athlete's appreciation for the services the coach has provided. Johnny presented Jarrett the medallion after the awards ceremony.

Johnny was lucky. He grew up in a town full of great Olympic athletes and great role models. Yes, it's true that many people will spend their entire life looking for the type of person who will set an example — but as Johnny learned, sometimes that person is living right next door.