JANUARY 31, 1955
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. At the time she was the national women's slalom champion and a top U.S. hope for a medal at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, Italy. "Where do they find them?" asks Jill, a delightfully cheerful woman who signs and sends back all the covers. The attention, she says, is more uplifting than ironic, though there is tragic irony in it. Kinmont never competed in Cortina, for three days after the magazine hit the newsstands, she crashed during a giant slalom race in Alta, Utah, breaking her neck and suffering severe spinal cord damage. Kinmont's long road back from the accident, which left her a quadriplegic, later became the subject of two popular movies, The Other Side of the Mountain and its sequel.
Hollywood stopped short of a Kinmont trilogy—there was talk of a TV series, but it never happened—and in the last two decades she has been, in her words, "just another resident" of Bishop, Calif., where she grew up. Last May, Kinmont Boothe (she married John Boothe in '76) retired after 32 years of teaching, the final 21 of which she spent at Bishop Union Elementary School, instructing the handicapped and learning disabled.
Retirement has hardly slowed her. Kinmont Boothe now volunteers twice a week at the school, and every day she drives her specially equipped van to visit her mother, June, who lives in a local retirement home. At other times Kinmont Boothe can be found caring for her vegetable garden or painting watercolors of the nearby barns and high desert landscapes of the Owens Valley. John makes frames for the paintings, and every so often Jill turns her house into a gallery for the citizens of Bishop. She has sold every painting. As that and the stream of SI covers suggest, not everyone has forgotten Jill Kinmont. "I get phone calls every week, from a person contemplating suicide to someone who is disabled to a schoolkid doing a research paper," she says. She's also well known in the local Native American community for working tirelessly on behalf of the Jill Kinmont Indian Education Fund, which awards $4,000 in scholarships annually to Native American high school seniors who are planning to attend college.
"I'm enjoying retirement," says the woman who has spent her life overcoming obstacles. "It seems as if I'm running nonstop."