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Honoring a hometown hero

Skibowl event remembers late Olympic champ Bill Johnson

Olympic gold medalist and hometown hero Bill Johnson was remembered on Saturday, March 19, in the place and way that fitted him best: On the slopes. POST PHOTO: ERIK KELLAR - Skiers race down Bills Gold as part of a memorial celebration race held on Saturday at Skibowl in Government Camp. The run was renamed from Dogs Leg to Bills Gold to honor Olympic gold medalist and local hero Bill Johnson, who died Jan. 21 at a Gresham care facility.

Mt. Hood Skibowl in Government Camp was where Johnson grew up skiing and where many who knew the champion still remember him with admiration and affection. In memory of his life and successes, the ski resort held a special celebration that included renaming a popular ski run in his honor and a race on the newly-dedicated run, “Bill’s Gold.” The event also recognized Johnson’s mother, D.B. Johnson. POST PHOTO: ERIK KELLAR - Peter Kakes, the head of Skibowls ski school, gives instruction to racers participating in Saturdays Bill Johnson Memorial Celebration at Skibowl in Government Camp. The daylong event includes the renaming of a popular ski slope as Bills Gold and other activities.

Johnson died in Gresham on Jan. 21 at age 55, following complications from a stroke five years ago.

Josh Frazier brought his 5-year-old son, Rojin, to the celebration and race.

Frazier attended school in Welches, and easily recalled hearing about Johnson’s historic win at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Born in California, Johnson moved to Brightwood when he was a child and was the first American man to take home a gold medal in alpine skiing. POST PHOTO: ERIK KELLAR - A skier competes in Saturdays daylong memorial celebration honoring local Olympic gold medalist Bill Johnson, who died Jan. 21 in Gresham at age 55 following complications from a stroke five years ago. The event was held at Skibowl in Government Camp.

Later, Frazier became friends with Johnson through his wife’s family.

“To find out someone was from your town, from Mt. Hood, had won a gold medal, that sticks with you your whole life,” Frazier said.

About 60 people of all ages attended the race, including skier Mike Heffernan, who proudly showed off a tattoo he’d added to his arm when he turned 40. The words of the tattoo, “Live to ski, ski to die,” are a nod to Johnson’s personal mantra.

“I wanted to honor Mr. Johnson,” Heffernan explained.

Petr Kakes, a former Olympian and the head of Skibowl’s ski school, noted that Johnson earned a rebellious image during his racing career. In the 1980s, that caused controversy for Johnson, which Kakes doesn’t believe would be the case for today’s skiers.

“I don’t know any athlete at the top of any sport in the world who is shy,” Kakes said.

Kakes and Johnson became friends, and Johnson became a hero to many local skiers.

“And to me,” Kakes added.

Also joining the race was Ryan Rooper, who also knew Johnson from his Skibowl days. He agreed with the decision to rename the run previously called Dog’s Leg to Bill’s Gold as a way to honor Johnson’s Olympic exploits.

“It’s very fitting,” Rooper said. “He skied here a lot. He skied everywhere a lot.”POST PHOTO: ERIK KELLAR - About 60 skiers competed in Saturdays daylong memorial celebration honoring Bill Johnson, who grew up in Brightwood and learned to ski at Skibowl in Government Camp. The event was held there.

The Mt. Hood Race Team recently established the Bill Johnson Memorial Scholarship Fund to support young Mitey Mite skiers who are learning to race at Skibowl, as Johnson did.

To learn more or make a donation, visit gofundme.com/fwvfwar4

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