AMAZING LEGACY OF CHUMMY BROOMHALL
Inspirational Pioneer and Leader
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.