Batman remembered for his heart, his passion and his guidance
by John Korobanik – Sports Writer Edmonton Journal
December 19, 2007
Batman finally crossed the finish line and stopped. Not that he wanted to, but because life decided it was time. Gary Battistella was Batman, known by members of the original Canadian ski team as a man with a heart too big for his body, who sometimes skied too fast for the mountain and had a passion for the sport he couldn’t wait to pass on. When Battistella finally surrendered to cancer on Dec. 12 in Denver, Colo., he didn’t leave behind any great records of victories but, instead, he left a legacy of kindness, a memory of a man who loved to laugh and the knowledge that, although the Canadian public never knew it, he played a role in the ultimate development of Canada into a skiing nation. "He had a huge heart, he loved to talk, had a great sense of humour," Gerry Rinaldi said of his fellow Kimberley native who was a huge influence in his own development as a ski racer. "He was always on the edge. He was one of those guys who just went for it all the time." Even if it meant there was no stopping at the finish line.
"He would go as fast as he could and couldn’t stop in the finish," Rod Hebron affectionately recalled. "He would run into the woods at the finish because he couldn’t stop." That go-for-it attitude made him one of Canada’s best skiers in 1960-64 and earned him a spot on the 1964 Olympic team. It also led to the horrific crash at Kitzbuhel just weeks before the Games and the injuries he suffered prevented him from racing in the Olympics. He retired that year and moved on to help with coaching and eventually into the ski industry.
There are many things that can be said about a man when he passes on and his only physical legacy is a small pile of dust. If it can be said that he was a gentleman, then his life was a worthy one. "He was a gentleman’s gentleman," said Peter Duncan, another member of the original Canadian ski team that was based in Nelson, B.C. in the mid-1960s. "There were so many opportunities not to be a gentleman and he never moved that way. And with the ladies, too, he was yes ma’am, no ma’am. And he understood the significance of sponsorship, he knew the people who were around us in those days meant well, didn’t have a lot of money but meant well, and Gary understood that."
He also understood that he could guide the young skiers to become the best they could and, in some cases, that became good enough to challenge the world. Jim Hunter, the original Crazy Canuck of the 1970s, met Batman on his first trip to Kokanee Glacier, the summer training site for the team. "He seemed a bit gruff and intimidating, but when asked seriously to explain something about technique and improvement, he had a glint in his eye and a passion in his voice that made you feel that he was trying to convert you to a new breakthrough in technology," said Hunter. "Whenever I would ask him something on or off the slope he would take the time to walk you through what we were trying to learn. There was a kindness to the voice and clarity of communication about him that made you think that you were his son. I have a few real important people on my list that made me truly a better skier. Gary Battistella is one of them."
Dave Jacobs, who coached that Canadian ski team through its early years, said Battistella is "synonymous with downhill racing in Canada. You might say he was an early spark in Canada’s mania for downhill champions. He was an important part of the whole ski team era … a fundamental part of the Canadian team resurgence that started in those days and is what it is today."
Batman began his career as a four-way skier — jumping, cross-country, downhill and slalom – and his skill and courage earned him a scholarship to Montana State.
"He had a unique jumping style and when he was in the U.S. he used to be able to jump with the best, the Norwegians," said Rinaldi. "He was an all-around athlete … just about everything he did in sports he was really good at." Where he really excelled, however, was his mentoring of the youngsters, including Nancy Greene, who went on to win Olympic gold, World Cup championships and was named Canada’s female athlete of the half century. "The first year I went to Europe I was pretty intimidated," she remembered. "Just being in Europe was a big challenge and the girls on the team from Eastern Canada were very sophisticated and had been there before. He kind of took me under his wing and said if you’re from the Kootenays you’re as good as anyone else. Just because you’re from a small town, it doesn’t matter. I thought he always had that knack of finding people who were uncomfortable with the situation and bringing them into the group. I think that’s way everyone loved him. He was a giver. One of the examples of a person who didn’t win any medals but was a real champion of the heart."
Gary is survived by his wife Beverly and his children Tye, Tricia, Roman, Andrew and Mason. Services will be held today, Dec. 20, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Northglenn, Colo. In June there will be a memorial service at Fairmont Hot Springs and Batman’s final resting place will be above Columbia Lake with his mother Evelyn and father Orlando. Contributions can be made in Gary’s name to the Dave Murray Ski Foundation, No. 306, 1367 West Broadway, Vancouver, B.C., V6H 4A9
For those of you who would like to write or send condolences to the Battistella family:
7641 South Addison Way,
Aurora, Colorado 80016
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