It was 10 a.m. when Jenn Heil called to give the columnist a heads up that she’d decided to “let it slip out” at a Tuesday afternoon press conference to promote this weekend’s World Cup event in Calgary.
Spruce Grove’s legendary long-time international queen of bumps and jumps had decided her last event of her career on Canadian snow would be in front of all her family and friends from her home town province at Canada Olympic Park Saturday morning.
“I don’t want to make a big deal of it,” said the 2006 Turin Olympic gold and Vancouver 2010 silver medal winner who was 1/100th of a point from having the entire collection, finishing fourth instead of winning a bronze at Salt Lake 2002 as well.
“I’ll let it come out in the questioning at our press conference. I’ve decided to do it now so all my family and everybody would know this will be the last time for me at home,” she said in the morning.
Sorry about that, kid. In this day of Twitter and the Internet, it was major sports news around the nation within minutes.
Jennifer Adelle Heil had that kind of a career, inspiring a generation of Canadian youth not only with her results but by becoming a role model the way she handled herself in public and in private, including being the inspiration for the B2ten legacy project which raised millions to fund the dreams of other elite Canadian athletes in all sports to prepare for Vancouver 2010 and beyond in subsequent editions of both winter and summer Olympics.
She didn’t realize how actually making the announcement would feel.
“I guess I was a bit unprepared about how actually saying the words would affect me. It was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” she said when it was over and her retirement, effective at the end of the season, was made official.
She called her dad, Randy, and mom, Heather, before she went into the press conference.
“My dad told me to get ready to have a big party after the final Saturday.
He said everybody, aunts and uncles and everybody, would be coming down from Edmonton to be there.”
But it was a face-to-face that did it.
“It’s one thing to know it in your heart, but it’s another to say it out loud. I had no idea I would have that much trouble saying it when I told our CEO, Peter Judge, and our media relations person Kelley Korbin just before we went in for the press conference.
“That’s when it hit me really hard. It just hit me how many friendships and experiences I had on the way to my dream. You can forget how long a journey it’s been.
“I cried big time just before I went out there. But I managed to hold it together during the press conference.
“I decided I wanted to tell everybody here because this is where it really started,” she said.
“Calgary was where it started for me. I was only five years old and I didn’t go to the Calgary Olympics in 1988 but my mom and dad did. They brought me home stuffed Heidi and Howdy mascots. I sure liked Heidi and Howdy. My mom and dad drove me and my sister Amie to Fortress or Canada Olympic Park every weekend after that.”
Heil is already assured of legendary status in the sport and is an automatic for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
She has won five Crystal Globes as World Cup points leader to match the record set by American Donna Weinbrecht, the 1992 Olympic gold medal winner.
She has 25 World Cup gold, 22 silver and seven bronze to go with her two Olympic medals and two gold and two silver from the world championships.
Heil has three silvers and a bronze to show for this season but has been unable to beat Hannah Kearney of the U.S.A., who leads second-place Heil in the overall standings. Kearney won the gold last year in Vancouver to begin Heil’s silver streak to end her career.
“I considered retirement after the Olympics last year but I still had the passion and the drive and this is a world championship year. They only happen every second year. And this year they’re at Deer Valley in Utah (Feb. 2 and 5),” she said of her first Olympic site.
She’ll finish the season off with four events in Europe which follow.
“The best part of coming out in saying it today in words is that I know our next generation of moguls skiers have already arrived and that I’ll be going away with no regrets.
And I know how much I’m going to enjoy telling kids for the rest of my life not to be afraid of having big dreams.”
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