John F. Russell: Feelin’ lucky in the ‘Boat |

John F. Russell: Feelin’ lucky in the ‘Boat

I’m lucky.

I didn’t win the lottery or strike it rich in Las Vegas, and Paris Hilton wasn’t my high school sweetheart – I’m not even sure I was in high school when she was born.

But on a less profitable level I know, and understand, just how lucky I’ve been in my life and in my career as a sports reporter and photographer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

I’ve been lucky enough to cover the Olympics – not once, but twice. I’ve had countless opportunities to meet and write about world-class athletes who impress me just as much, if not more, than any professional athlete.

Many of the athletes who I’ve covered have gone on to become members of the U.S. Ski Team, some are Olympians, and a few have won Olympic medals. They have taught me about desire, success and failure. They haven’t all been heroes, but most of them have set high standards in character and have displayed the type of behavior that would make any parent proud.

This week, I had an opportunity to catch up with Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong – two athletes whom I’ve been proud to cover during my career. Currently, they are living at the top of the Nordic combined World Cup standings and setting the standard for an American team filled with promise for the future.

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The two young men have grown up as part of the U.S. Nordic combined team and are great examples of why I love working in Steamboat. They have both earned World Championship medals, and they have both had to overcome adversity during their careers.

Demong fractured his skull after diving into a shallow pool after a summer Grand Prix event in Germany in 2002. The injury sidelined Demong for a year, and left many thinking the young skier’s career on the jumps had run its course.

But Demong proved them wrong. Instead of giving in, he came to Steamboat, where he trained and worked to get back to the sport he loves. It wasn’t easy, but during the past several years Demong has completed the comeback – he brought home the silver medal from the World Championships in 2007.

Johnny Spillane also has had to battle to get where he is today. After winning the World Championship gold medal in the sprint in 2003, Spillane has been slowed by a nagging shoulder injury that could have ended his career.

But like Demong, Spillane wasn’t about to give in. This season, after two years of recovery, the Steamboat athlete also seems to be back on the road to success. He opened this season with a second-place finish – his best since 2003 – and has a new confidence that shows in all aspects of his life.

Sure, there have been times in my career when I wished that I was working for a bigger paper, and chasing bigger stories. But luckily I’ve got guys like Demong and Spillane to remind me just how good I’ve got it.