Goodbye Willie Neal

willie-nealWow, 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.

willieWillie 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.

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10 Responses to “Goodbye Willie Neal”

  1. 1 Ian Havlick Jun 23rd, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Hey steve, thanks for the post. My brother and I were Willie’s close roommates for the last year and a half and we’re really hurtin over here in Sun Valley. I think you summed it up pretty well…totally crushing.

  2. 2 Grant Jun 23rd, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I’m very sorry to hear about the death of this young man. My thoughts are with his friends and family-

  3. 3 Ted Jun 23rd, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Good post Steve. I didn’t really know Willie but knew his brother. I can’t imagine what he is going through. Positive vibes to the whole family.

  4. 4 randosteve Jun 23rd, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Ian, I am very sorry for the loss of your good friend. Life can be such a roller coaster ride, but know that time heals all wounds and you will get through this…however long it takes.


  5. 5 John Gans Jun 23rd, 2009 at 11:19 am

    I am so sorry to hear this news. Willie was a great guy….. I knew him through skiing (my daughter is a nordic skier) and also as a co-delegate at the Democratic State Convention. He was hard working and determined to make the world a better place. My thoughts are with all of his family and friends. Such a loss….


  6. 6 z Jun 23rd, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Willie was a one in a million. i will miss him sorely.

  7. 7 brian Jun 23rd, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Total bad-ass and all around number one citizen. A crushing loss to us all. It was a privilege knowing him.

  8. 8 Hatilie Jun 23rd, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    What a tragic loss. Willie and his amazing family inspire me every single day. Thanks for this post, Steve. I will miss reading about his amazing accomplishments. I am so sad for his friends and family and hope that his legacy will inspire others to do great things in this world.

  9. 9 Susan Jul 1st, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    The Neals asked that in lieu of flowers, people please consider a donation to the Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund. Its mission is promoting environmentally responsible choices through education and legislation.
    Current Projects:Educating communities to the mutual benefits of making environmentally responsible choices and finding common ground among diverse groups.
    Identification of products and processes for small businesses that are both environmentally responsible and financially feasible.
    Working with businesses to create and place “No Idling” signs in their parking space
    Promoting no-idling initiatives

    Donations can be sent to:
    The Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund
    Community Foundation of Jackson Hole
    P.O. Box 574
    Jackson, WY 83001

    For more information, visits these web sites; process)

  10. 10 randosteve Jul 1st, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks Susan!

    I will try to relay this info. Please let me know if you hear about any memorial services.


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