No American will bring a better Olympic family resume to Salt Lake for the 2002 Winter Games than Jimmy Shea Jr. Unfortunately, because of a recent tragedy, none will carry as much sorrow either.
Shea is one of those people who found a purpose through sports. At the age of 25, with any hope of a lacrosse or hockey career behind him, he was attending community college and working at a restaurant in his hometown of Lake Placid, New York, when he met Scott Muckelroy, then a member of the U.S. bobsled team. Muckelroy criticized Shea and his friends, calling them out of shape, poor excuses for athletes, even though several were about to join him at the bobsled track. The bobsledder's words proved to be Shea's motivation. He decided to give sports another try--specifically, the skeleton, a new Olympic event in which participants lie face-first on a luge-like sled and go sailing down a bobsled-like run at high speeds.
"For an adrenaline junkie like me, there's no bigger high," Shea says. "It was a wicked challenge and just a great experience."Even though the U.S. skeleton team struggled at first (it once cut short a European tour because of a lack of funds, leaving Shea to hitchhike to events), within five years of picking up a sled, the Lake Placid native was world champion. Last year when Jimmy Shea was selected to the Olympic team, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jack, and his father, Jim Sr., it marked the first time three generations from the same family had made a U.S. Olympic team.
"You could call it a moral decision. Dad knew what was going on in the world through his studies at Dartmouth. He didn't want to compete in Nazi Germany. He's talked with Jimmy a lot about what went into that decision. How you're always a citizen of the world."When Jimmy made this year's Olympic team, he says, you could see the excitement in his grandfather's eyes.
"That was the best," Jimmy says. "He said, 'You made it. I'm so proud of you. We're going to the Olympics.'"
But just 18 days after Jack Shea was honored as the oldest living U.S. Winter Olympic gold medalist, the 91-year-old died from injuries suffered in a car accident. His vehicle was struck head-on only a few blocks from his home in Lake Placid. The driver of the other car was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated."It was tough because he got out of the car, had a bump on his head and seemed OK at the time," Jimmy told the Associated Press. "Then he just kept saying, 'I think I messed up the Olympics. I really want to go to the Olympics.' He was really living for that."
The trio is featured in a current Sprint commercial, which continues to air, and was slated to be one of the Games' better "up close and personals." For his Olympic runs in skeleton, Jimmy Shea will tuck an autographed commemorative card of his grandfather into his helmet.
"My grandfather used to dream about me competing in the Olympics," he said in a statement released by the U.S. Olympic Committee. "When I qualified for the Games, he could not have been more proud. He knew better than most the importance of the Games. (He) always felt it was not who won the gold; it was truly about bringing the world together in a peaceful setting."