Jill Kinmont Boothe, L.A.-born ski racer and teacher was 75*

jill+kinmont+si.jpgmccoykinmontsm.jpg
Kinmont on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1955, and with her coach, Mammoth Mountain founder Dave McCoy.

I didn't really know the Jill Kinmont story until reading today's LA Times obituary, but it has so many noteworthy elements. I've been piecing together tidbits from various sources. Kinmont was born in Los Angeles in 1936 and moved to the Owens Valley, where her father ran a guest ranch near Bishop. She began skiing at Mammoth Mountain, and in 1955 was considered such a promising medal contender in the slalom races at the following year's Winter Olympics in Italy that Sports Illustrated put the 18-year-old Californian on the cover.

She was blond and cute, so for the press she filled the role of America's skiing sweetheart. Three days before the SI cover reached newsstands, Kinmont fell while racing at Alta in Utah. A broken neck left her legs and some of her upper body paralyzed. "The accident...was among the saddest in sports history," the publisher of Sports Illustrated wrote shortly afterward. He called for donations to a fund to help her. Kinmont directed that any excess collected should go to the U.S. Olympic team.

jill+kinmont+stretcher+lapl.jpgMonths later, when Kinmont returned to Los Angeles by train, reporters and photographers were waiting at Union Station. For awhile, the papers followed her progress at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica and occasional outings — the Herald-Express (predecessor to the Herald Examiner) photo here was from a trip to a Santa Monica pier — I'm not sure which one. Attention faded, though Sports Illustrated checked in briefly six months after the injury.

As Bettina Boxall's LAT story shows, for Kinmont life went on.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in German and English, she applied to the university's school of education and was rejected because of her disability, she later said. Undaunted, she moved north with her parents, earned a teaching certificate at the University of Washington and taught remedial reading in elementary schools on Mercer Island.

When she and her mother returned to Los Angeles after her father died in 1967, one Southern California school district after another refused to hire her.

In 1968, Kinmont Boothe told The Times that a Los Angeles school district physician kept saying: " 'What a tragedy. A young girl, cut down in the bloom of youth.' All that. It sounded like a Western or something."

"I told her, 'That's nothing. The only tragedy is if you won't hire me because of this injury.' "

Kinmont finally got a job teaching reading in the Beverly Hills School District, then returned to Bishop in 1975 to teach. She got married there. She was the subject of a 1966 book, "A Long Way Up: The Story of Jill Kinmont," by E.G. Valens, and two feature films that dramatized her story. Actress Marilyn Hassett won a "best actress debut" Golden Globe for portraying Kinmont in "The Other Side of the Mountain" in 1975, filmed at Mammoth with Beau Bridges as her fiance. A sequel, "The Other Side of the Mountain, Part II," came out in 1978. Kinmont's photo still hangs in the ski lodge at Mammoth.

For many people, even winter sports fans, Jill Kinmont's name only comes up as the first so-called victim of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. The magazine updated the Kinmont story a little in 1997:

Jill Kinmont Boothe doesn't subscribe to Sports Illustrated, yet she receives a copy of the magazine nearly every week in the mail. The copies come from autograph seekers who send the Jan. 31, 1955, issue, featuring a cover photograph of the 18-year-old Kinmont.

They know her well in the Eastern Sierra communities along U.S. highway 395. She was a public school teacher for 32 years, including 21 years with special ed kids at Bishop Union Elementary School. When a new high school opened in Bishop, the students voted to name it the Jill Kinmont Boothe School. She oversaw the Indian Education Fund, which provides scholarships to local Native American youth, and had a local following as a painter. "My way of wanting to do all this stuff probably stems a lot from my competitive endeavors because I like to focus on something," Kinmont Boothe told Jerry Crowe of the LA Times last year. "I'm sort of determined."

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Kinmont Boothe joined past and present Eastern Sierra Olympic athletes on a panel in 2010.

Kinmont Boothe died Thursday at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center in Carson City, Nevada, nearly 57 years after the skiing accident that put her in wheelchair. She would have been 76 next week. Her husband John survives her.

New York Times obituary
Sierra Wave
Blogging Bishop.com

Noted: By the way, Kinmont did attend the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina D'Ampezzo. Corbis Images has a picture of her watching in a wheelchair. And this from City News Service reporter Steven Herbert, on Facebook, regarding Kinmont Boothe's time in the Beverly Hills school system

Former Hawthorne School remedial reading teacher Jill Kinmont Boothe died Thursday at the age of 75....I would like as many of my fellow Hawthorne School alumni to know about this....I hope there is a tribute to her in Beverly Hills.

* Small updates in post, including added photos.

Photo with Dave McCoy: SkiiingHistory.org. Photo of Kinmont in Santa Monica: Herald Examiner Collection at LAPL.org. 2010 photo by Layton Petersen/The Sheet


More by Kevin Roderick:
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Journo jumps from Daily Journal to Warren Olney
Protester who smacked LAPD cop sentenced to jail
Michael J. Ybarra, journalist was 45
Andy Griffith, actor was 86
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