In­spi­ra­tional Pi­o­neer and Leader

SkiTrax - - News - By Peter Graves

This past De­cem­ber, the amaz­ing Chummy Broomhall cel­e­brated his 98th birth­day sur­rounded by fam­ily and friends. It was a spe­cial, loving time. Not many are given the gift of longevity, and he ap­pre­ci­ated that he had lived a good, rich life. On Dec. 30, 2017, he passed away qui­etly and at peace.

Men­tion the name Chummy Broomhall and most Nordic folk might call him a leg­endary Olympian, coach, in­no­va­tor and icon. Through­out his 98 years, he was all these things and more. I was first in­tro­duced to Chummy in the late 1960’s by my high-school coach Bucky Broomhall, his brother (the en­tire Broomhall fam­ily is a plea­sure to know).

I vis­ited Chummy again this past sum­mer to in­ter­view him about his ex­tra­or­di­nary life where he lived for a time at the Maine Veter­ans’ Home, a quiet and peace­ful refuge in South Paris, Maine. His son Scott, a life­long friend of mine, ac­com­pa­nied me. Time had marched on and Chummy’s ski­ing days were be­hind him, though he was still rather ac­tive last July, tak­ing part in any so­cial event on his cal­en­dar. This past sum­mer, he was the old­est veteran there. And he was loved and re­spected by all.

His words and his kind eyes brought me back to an ear­lier time. In many ways, he was a high-pro­file per­son­al­ity, though not be­cause he wanted to be. In fact, his quiet, self-suf­fi­cient man­ner sug­gested that he was such only in ser­vice to his love of Nordic ski­ing. He told me that cross-coun­try ski­ing had given him so much that he al­ways felt the need to give back in re­turn. And dur­ing his long life, re­turn the favour he did, and Nordic ski­ing is so much richer for it. His many life­long ac­com­plish­ments are sim­ply too ex­tra­or­di­nary to ig­nore.

Born Wen­dall Broomhall on Dec. 3, 1919 in Mex­ico, Maine, Chummy was the mid­dle child of 15 sib­lings. He grew up on a farm­stead, rid­ing horses and learn­ing the value of work, clean­ing out horse stalls as a young child. In his youth, he worked hard as well, spend­ing much of his time as a log­ger.

To the ori­gin of his nick­name, he re­vealed, “I was first called Chubby be­cause I was a chubby kid, but as I thinned out, the kids changed it to Chummy.” To my mind, Chummy suited him per­fectly.

When Uncle Sam called for men to en­list to fight the Nazis, Chummy was right there, along with his brother Slim. Chummy said he’d en­vi­sioned a mil­i­tary ca­reer as a pi­lot, but that dream was dashed due to poor eye­sight in one eye. He joined the U.S. Army, as did Slim, and they headed to the new fight­ing out­fit that spe­cial­ized in win­ter war­fare – the fa­bled 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, lo­cated high in the Rock­ies at Cape Hale, Colo.

“It was,” as son Scott re­called, “the be­gin­ning of his love af­fair with win­ter and ski­ing.”

The broth­ers were both ex­pert skiers and rac­ers, so join­ing this par­tic­u­lar out­fit made plenty of sense. Chummy told me he wanted to be an or­di­nary sol­dier, but the fate would have none of that. He be­came

one of the lead ski in­struc­tors for the unit. He and his brother played im­por­tant roles in key cam­paigns, in­clud­ing in heavy fight­ing at Monte Cassino in Italy and on the Aleu­tian Is­lands in Alaskan ter­ri­tory.

One of sev­eral tough cam­paigns that Chummy took part in and clearly re­called was dur­ing the lat­ter stages of World War Two, a 123-day siege against heav­ily for­ti­fied Ger­man troops deep in the moun­tain peaks and ridges around Monte Cassino. The se­ries of four as­saults by Al­lied troops com­menced on Jan. 17, 1944. “Dig­ging fox­holes in that kind of ter­rain was sim­ply out of the ques­tion; it was too rocky,” he noted.

Af­ter the war, Chummy re­turned home and mar­ried the love of his life, Lempi Torkko, in her home­town of Ash­land, Wis. on Nov. 17, 1945, and theirs was a beau­ti­ful 60-year part­ner­ship filled with love and blessed with three chil­dren. Lempi passed away in May 2006.

Chummy was also a mem­ber of the US Ski Team from 1947-1954. He made the U.S. Olympic team in 1948 and again in 1952. At the 1948 Olympic Games, he was the only “spe­cial run­ner” in­cluded on the squad, with the re­main­der of the team com­prised of Nordic-com­bined ath­letes. In Oslo, Nor­way in 1952, among his team­mates were noted skiers John Bur­ton, Tom Ja­cobs, Johnny Cald­well and George Hov­land.

A lack of snow for the U.s.-hosted 1950 FIS World Nordic Cham­pi­onships in Lake Placid, N.Y. saw the event moved to Rum­ford, Maine on lit­tle no­tice. Snow-drenched Rum­ford came to the res­cue, as it had done be­fore, it be­ing in a nat­u­ral snow­belt. The open­ing cer­e­mony for all events was con­ducted in Lake Placid, then ath­letes and coaches jumped into their ve­hi­cles and drove to Rum­ford for the Cham­pi­onships’ Feb. 3 start.

Though Chummy on was the Na­tional team for the event, he and the Rum­ford com­mu­nity proved in­dis­pens­able. “It was the leg­endary things he did that re­ally drew me to him,” said Andy Shep­ard, cur­rent pres­i­dent and CEO of the Out­door Sport In­sti­tute. “I mean, what he did was sim­ply un­be­liev­able. Chummy ral­lied the Rum­ford com­mu­nity to take on this event in 1950, and he was on the Na­tional team at that time. He took a lead role in or­ga­niz­ing the event, lay­ing out the course and re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers to run the races. He even pre-ran the course to set in the track be­fore putting on his own rac­ing bib and com­pet­ing. It’s hard for me to imag­ine any ath­lete do­ing more to com­pro­mise his own chance at suc­cess in a World Cham­pi­onships, but Chummy did it be­cause he knew it would be good for his town. That’s what Chummy is made of, and why I’ve grown to love this man so much,” Shep­ard said last sum­mer.

It proved to be a Rum­ford mir­a­cle. The tim­ing crews re­lo­cated from Lake Placid to Rum­ford, but the rest of the team was or­ga­nized lo­cally. It was a mov­ing ex­am­ple of a small town with a “can do” spirit un­der one man’s lead­er­ship. Some trails were cut only the week be­fore in a back­break­ing ef­fort to have an 18-kilo­me­tre loop. The races be­gan in front of the high school, with some of the track (no longer in ex­is­tence) fol­low­ing the now-well-trav­eled Route 2.

Chummy Broomhall was a leg­endary Olympian, coach, in­no­va­tor and icon whose life­long ac­com­plish­ments in cross-coun­try ski­ing were ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Chummy Broomhall served as Chief of Events for cross-coun­try and for the first-time Olympic ap­pear­ance of biathlon at the 1960 Squaw Val­ley Win­ter Games.

Broomhall's love af­fair with win­ter and ski­ing be­gan with the fa­bled 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion.

Broomhall be­came one of the lead ski in­struc­tors for his army unit and played im­por­tant roles in key cam­paigns in Italy and on the Aleu­tian Is­lands.

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