By Peggy Shinn
A year ago, Linda Walkup was in the hospital with a punctured and collapsed right lung, broken and displaced collarbone, broken sternum, and eight cracked ribs — the victim of a car wreck on a rainy night in Dallas, Texas.
The NASTAR Nationals podium, where she had stood three weeks earlier after finishing third in the women’s 55 to 59 age group, platinum division, seemed like a distant memory.
But Walkup, a long-time NASTAR competitor, not only returned to the NASTAR Nationals podium this year, she also won her division (women’s 60 to 64, platinum).
“Nice to win once in awhile,” she said in an email to NASTAR director Bill Madsen. “Even better, my son came in second in a much more competitive division group (male 16 to 17).”
Now age 60, Walkup has competed in NASTAR for almost 20 years. She discovered the gates after her husband signed her up for a Billy Kidd race camp as a Christmas gift. They were longtime Steamboat skiers, and she had noticed some fast skiers who were in the 70s and 80s. She figured she should become a better skier before she became “really old,” she said.
“Skiing in the gates, there’s just no lying,” Walkup said with a laugh. “You ski in the gates, and you get a time and a handicap and a medal. Then you know, ‘Gee, I have gotten a little better in the last five years, or I need to work on it a little more.’”
In 2006, Walkup began competing at NASTAR Nationals, and she has competed in them ever since, moving from the gold division to platinum. Four years ago, she won her division (female 55 to 59, platinum). But she joked that everyone around her age is competing for second place when Jeanette Saylor is on the start list.
Saylor, a long-ago member of the Canadian national team, is a perennial NASTAR favorite and has won her category seven times at NASTAR Nationals.
Then, last April 18, after ski season had ended, Walkup and her husband were back in Dallas on their way home one rainy evening. Three blocks from their house, a speeding car broadsided them as they tried to turn left. Walkup’s side of the car sustained the most damage.
Both Walkups were taken to the hospital with broken collarbones. But Mr. Walkup only had bruised ribs. His wife was not as lucky.
She remained in the hospital for four days with a chest tube draining fluid from her lungs. The doctor told her that she would have been sent to the intensive care unit had she not been in such great physical condition.
“I was only in great shape from skiing NASTAR Finals a couple weeks prior,” she wrote to Madsen. “Racing can save your life!”
Then a week after she was released, she and her husband had surgery on their collarbones.
“We took turns having [our collarbones] reattached with plates and screws,” she said. “He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, and we each broke our dominant collarbone.”
Three months later, Walkup was back on a waterski. And she and her husband successfully completed a bike and barge tour in Europe in late June — a 60th birthday present for Walkup.
This winter, she raced in the NASTAR course every time it was open (39 times). By March, she felt like her old self again.
She plans to compete next year, as well.
“When you get older like me and you’re competing, attrition is your friend,” she joked. “I hope to be the last one standing.”
On a more serious note, she now truly knows the benefit of ski racing.
“When you’re standing there at 60 years old freezing cold in a race suit and going down an icy slope, there’s a reason to do this,” she added. “Ski racing isn’t just about going fast at Finals, but being in shape for what life brings you.”
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