Determined |


Stahoviak overcomes obstacles and keeps pushing forward

Nearly two years after a near-fatal illness and the loss of her right leg, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak continues to serve her community. Stahoviak, who turns 60 next month, said her health is stable.
Matt Stensland

— Nancy Stahoviak joked at a recent meeting that she is in favor of global warming.

A comment about how she would welcome warmer temperatures drew laughter from a roomful of city and county officials Tuesday during a discussion at the Routt County Courthouse Annex about air quality and environmental issues.

It was funny because it’s true.

Winters aren’t easy for Stahoviak, a Routt County commissioner since 1993. In March 2005, her right leg was amputated above the knee to prevent the spread of a bacterial infection. The amputation followed years of illnesses and ailments – including Rheumatoid arthritis and hip replacements – that accelerated in late 2003, when kidney failure and an infected colon sent her on an emergency flight to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. She was in intensive care for 10 days. Survival was a question.

“It was very touch and go,” Stahoviak said this week. “My whole family came to Denver.”

Stahoviak came home from the Doak Walker Care Center in September 2005 and began using a motorized wheelchair to get around. That winter, more than 400 inches of snow fell on Routt County.

Stahoviak said some days she would roll out of the Oak Creek home she shares with her husband, Ronald, and immediately sink into the snow.

“I would just turn around and go back inside,” she said.

It’s no wonder Stahoviak may be one of the few Routt County residents who is enjoying this winter’s relatively light snowfall.

“This year it’s been a piece of cake because we haven’t had much snow,” she said. “And we’ve learned that I need to get a running start on the ramp and leap onto the better part of the driveway.”

Nearly two years after the amputation, Stahoviak said her health is stable. She has had no indications that her illnesses will return. She has adjusted to the wheelchair and settled into a routine with Ronald, who works in engineering maintenance at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Hotel and drives Nancy to and from Oak Creek on weekdays. The couple has been married nearly 37 years. Expressing a desire to keep their personal life private, Ronald would not comment for this article.

During the day, Nancy Stahoviak uses a para-transit van offered by Steamboat Springs Transit to travel to meetings.

And there are a lot of meetings.

Stahoviak, who turns 60 in March and is chairwoman of the Routt County Board of Commissioners this year, had to pause before listing all the groups she is involved with.

“South Routt Community Center board, South Routt Early Learning Center board, advisory board for the Community Agriculture Alliance, First Impressions, Yampa Valley Housing Authority, the Yampa Valley Medical Center Board of Trustees, the Rural Consortium Workforce board, the Vision 2030 Committee, the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, and the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative,” Stahoviak said. “I think that about covers it.”

Missing nothing

Chuck Vale has directed Routt County’s Office of Emergency Management for 17 years – or all of Stahoviak’s 14-year tenure as a county commissioner. On Friday, Vale recalled the challenges Stahoviak faced in 2003 and praised her recovery.

“When you think of just her health alone and the condition she was in when she was flown out of here – which is pretty near death – I am absolutely thrilled she has done so well,” Vale said. “She has always been a very energized public official. To see that energy come back is pretty exciting – she is literally everywhere and involved in everything. As a department head, I am somewhat shocked at the ability she has to read everything that comes in front of her. She misses nothing.”

Stahoviak’s focus is a constant theme among those who know her best.

“She’s got phenomenal capacity to remember the data, the details,” said Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative. “She’s like a CEO.”

Moore said she has known Stahoviak for more than 30 years.

“Nancy and I date back to Oak Creek, when she and I were on the board to build the South Routt Community Center. Our children were the same age,” Moore said, recalling a time in the early 1980s. “There was a day when we needed all hands on deck to insulate the building, and there was Nancy, kind of limping with her arthritis. It’s one thing to show up and do what you’re good at, or what’s easy for you to do, but to physically challenge yourself like that – that’s something that has always stuck with me about Nancy.”

Stahoviak continued serving as a county commissioner through much of her illness and hospitalizations, reading documents and participating in meetings via telephone.

“I was two years into being a commissioner when she got sick, and boy, it was definitely hard on us to try to function and keep the ball rolling,” Commissioner Doug Monger said. “But I just couldn’t tell you how impressed I was with her ability to keep coming back and keep trying and continuing to serve the public. Nancy is a hell of a lady. I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s a great asset to Routt County.”

“I think there were some in the public who may have wondered about it, or who thought she should resign or whatever, but we made it work,” former Commissioner Dan Ellison said. “We sent her the information we were getting every week, and she would study and review that. She is a very determined person.”

More to handle

Stahoviak said continuing to work as a commissioner helped her get through the hospitalizations.

“That was really important, to keep looking forward,” she said. “I’ve been a community activist for 30 years. The issues change, but I’ve always tried to be proactive about things.”

That hasn’t changed these days, as Stahoviak continues to consume the glut of documents and information from her various positions on community groups.

“I hardly ever get to read anything except what comes across my desk,” she said.

The reading is so heavy that Stahoviak has not yet finished “The Da Vinci Code,” a thriller that most readers can’t put down.

But Stahoviak does find time for hobbies including cooking, cheering for the Broncos and Avalanche, and occasionally watching “no-think TV” such as “Law & Order” and, yes, “American Idol.”

When she talks about her recovery and life with the wheelchair, Stahoviak says she is grateful for “all the support that I have gotten from the people of Routt County.” And she downplays her accomplishments.

“There are other people in this community who are wheelchair-bound and who do great things. It’s something that a lot of people have to deal with,” Stahoviak said. “It’s different, and I can’t do everything I used to be able to do, but I can do what I need to. I’ve always had the philosophy that God won’t give me more than I can handle.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail

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