Wow, life sure throws you curve balls sometimes and it’s often really hard to know for what purpose certain thing happen. Yesterday morning I got a phone call from my boss informing me about the death of Jackson youth, Willie Neal. Willie was killed when a car stuck him while roller skiing on the side of the road in northern Maine.
I knew Willie and the Neal’s rather well. The Neals are one of the most passionate Nordic skiing families I know here in Jackson and it showed in Willie’s life. He captured 8 Wyoming state titles during his tenure at Jackson Hole High School and was in Maine training to become a member of the 2010 US Junior World Championship Team when he died. I probably mounted every ski and cut every pole he used during his years skiing for the Jackson High School and every one was most likely a rush job as he waited to get on the road to some race or Nordic event. No doubt Willie had dreams of someday skiing in the Olympics, a goal that he probably had a darn good chance at achieving.
Willie’s passion and excitement for skiing reached far beyond the Nordic track as well. Willie was never afraid of challenges and he, along with his father, would enter into the Jackson Hole rando race every year, testing their skills on rando gear, which is just slightly beefier than the Nordic equipment they were used to. Willie and his father Bill, would come into the store and hammer me with questions about equipment and technique every year and often won some sort of prize recognizing their efforts. No matter how his race turned out, Willie would always have a smile on his face telling me stories of his skins falling off or having trouble keeping up with the top-dogs.
Willie Neal’s successes went far beyond the Nordic track and he was a Wyoming delegate at the democratic National Convention is Denver in 2008. He also interned for Senator John Kerry who had this to say about his passing. “Willie was such a spectacular young man with so much passion for the environment and he was already turning that energy into activism. I was blown away reading about the contributions he’d already made, let alone thinking about what he could have done. It’s just sickening to think about this tragedy.” (Click here for article in the Jackson Hole News and Guide.)
Willie Neal will be greatly missed here in Jackson, but his energy and excitement for skiing will continue on in his family and the rest of us who love and live to ski. Your star still shines brightly Willie, may you rest in peace.