Pico Ski Club honors Andrea Mead Lawrence
02/13/09 4:50PM By Nina Keck
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(Host) Andrea Mead Lawrence was born in Rutland in 1932 and grew up skiing at Pico Peak - the resort her parents started.
A three-time Olympian, she did what no other U.S. Alpine skier and no woman in the world had ever done ... she won two Olympic gold medals in one Winter Games. It's a record that lives on.
Tomorrow, members of Pico Ski Club are honoring Lawrence on the 60th anniversary of Pico's racing program.
VPR's Nina Keck has more.
(Keck) If you walk in to the Pico Ski Club you'll still see photographs of Andrea Mead Lawrence on the walls. She's laughing with friends in one and her natural beauty and willowy frame evoke images of a young Katherine Hepburn on skis. Lawrence loved Pico and she says her years there instilled a passion for both skiing and nature.
(Mead Lawrence) "Being born and raised in Vermont, the first 10 years of my life were probably the most important and significant of all the years I've had. And I've often said my soul is in Vermont and my spirit is in the West."
(Keck) For the last 40 years, Lawrence has lived in Mammoth Lake, California, a small town tucked in the Sierra Mountains. Speaking from her home there, she says she vividly remembers the first time she felt passionate about racing. She was 10 and she was allowed to take a test run down a course in Lake Placid.
(Mead Lawrence) "And in the process of doing that I went through a hairpin turn and it was so natural, it was like a psychic click. I mean it was just one of those remarkable moments and I knew instinctively that that's what I was meant to do."
(Keck) Her newly discovered love of racing was tempered, however, by the sudden loss of her father, who died that same year in a boating accident on Chittenden Reservoir. Lawrence says it forced her to grow up. John Fry, former editor of Skiing Magazine and author of The Story of Modern Skiing, says her focus and skill at such a young age were extraordinary.
(Fry) "The average age of a woman World Cup racer today on the circuit is about 28 years of age. Andrea Mead was 14 years old when she first became eligible to compete on the U.S. ski team."
(Keck) Her first Olympics in 1948 were a learning experience. Three years later she hit her stride, winning 12 of 16 international races. Fry says it's a record that's still unequaled by any other American skier. Her accomplishments landed her on the cover of Time Magazine in 1951 and made her a favorite at the 1952 Olympics in Norway. On her first slalom run she slipped a gate and finished poorly. But during her final run, she says she had an amazing sense of clarity and purpose.
(Mead Lawrence) "When I got into the starting gate- it was like a deep, dark, still pool of black water, which is a metaphor and it's a very powerful metaphor. And when the count came down, I just went like a bullet down the course."
(Keck) Lawrence won the race by two seconds. Olympic medalist Penny Pitou was just starting her skiing career in New Hampshire. She remembers her mother telling her about a girl from Vermont winning Olympic gold.
(Pitou) "And I thought wow, that's fabulous - I think I was 12 or so and I sort of aspired to be a hot shot in New Hampshire, anyway. And a day or two later she was reading the paper again and she said she's won a second gold medal! And so from that moment on I wanted to meet Andy and be just like her."
(Keck) Pitou says Lawrence became a close friend and mentor and helped her go on to win two silver medals at the 1960 games in Squaw Valley. For Andrea Mead Lawrence, the 1956 games marked the end of her Olympic career. She settled in Aspen, where she joined the local Planning Commission and discovered a new passion for politics.
(Mead Lawrence) "I was intrigued with it. I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that people can make a difference in their communities if they care enough about it."
(Keck) Lawrence and her husband divorced in the mid-1960s and she and their five children moved to California, where she became a vocal environmental activist. In 1982 she was elected Mono County Supervisor - a position she held for 16 years.
(Mead Lawrence) "I was the only woman on the board for a while - 5 person board. I think that makes a difference. I mean those guys up there - it's the old boys and they let you have it every which way but one. But I never learned to quit. I mean all those years of racing I never ever quit. There's a price I paid for that. And I think part of that pressure and tension and stress lead me into this damn cancer stuff.''
(Keck) Cancer hit first in 2000. But Lawrence fought back. Unfortunately, she says it reappeared not long ago in her lungs and once again, she finds herself in a tough race.
Her illness means she can't fly to Rutland for the Pico Ski Club dinner. But she says she'll be there in spirit and a part of her, she says softly, never really left.
For VPR news, I'm Nina Keck in Rutland.
Top Photo: Penny Pitou (Olympic silver medalist in 1960) Andrea Mead Lawrence, Klaus Obermeyer and Allison Pobrislo (head of Prance Corp and documentary film maker)