Olympian: Perseverence key to success

Scott Swanson

Mike Hessell was just a ski bum when he discovered the luge.

Hessell, now 70 and a Corvallis resident, appeared at an Olympic Day track meet held for Boys and Girls Club members on Friday, June 28, at Husky Field.

He told the approximately 50 children present about how he qualified to represent the United States in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

“I started skiing when I was about 9 years old and I loved it,” he told the youngsters. “I got paper routes and I worked and saved my money.”

By age 19 he had saved enough to go to Europe to ski there, and discovered the luge, which was a new event in the 1964 Olympics.

“It was pretty much a fluke,” he said.

Having lived in a hilly area of Portland as a child, during two years when there was heavy snowfall, Hessell said, he knew how to ride a sled, but he and other Americans interested in the new Olympic sport were basically relegated to learning by trial and error in the year he had to develop his skills.

“I fell off a lot,” he said. “Then I’d get back on. We had people on the curves to spot our lines and tell us what we were doing wrong.”

Hessell finished 22nd in the individual luge in 1964, the sports maiden year in the Olympics.

He told the children that they needed to work for what they wanted in life.

“I worked very hard and saved every penny so I could go skiing,” he said. “If you want to do something like that, you have to work for it.”

He brought two of the original luges he used in the Olympics for the children to try out. They cost about $500 back in the day; now luges cost about $3,000.

Police Chief Jeff Lynn talked to the youngsters about sportsmanship before he introduced Hessell.

“It’s all about being patient, understanding and respecting people you’re competing against,” he said, urging the children to “win without bragging, lose without complaining.”

“At the end of the day, everybody has a good time.”