Lee’s skill on the Austrian slopes earns a gold medal

Published 9:39 pm Friday, January 21, 2011

The odds of a youngster from rural South Alabama winning a gold medal in alpine skiing in the Austrian Alps is about the same as winning the jackpot at a Harrah’s casino.

But Hayes Lee didn’t know that. So, he strapped on his ski boots, pulled down his goggles and gave himself a strong push off with his poles and did just that.

Hayes laughingly said that he didn’t realize that he was a gold medalist until his name was called at the “championship” run of the Schischule St. Johann in Tirol, Austria, earlier this month.

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Hayes’ “Papa,” Stephen H. Lee, had enrolled him and five of his cousins in the weeklong ski school in the town of St. Johann in Tirol, which is nestled at the foot of the Wilder Kaiser and Kitzbuheler-Horn mountains.

“Papa wanted to take all of us snow skiing so he could see us enjoy learning together,” Lee said. “He picked Austria so that’s where we went.”

The grandchildren ranged in age from eight to 22 and Hayes was in the middle at age 12. He had skied once at Big Sky Resort, Montana, so skiing wasn’t completely new to him. He knew how to wedge and balance and get up when he fell.

Before Hayes and his family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins arrived at the ski school, they visited Munich, Germany, and toured several castles and other tourist sites.

“We went on the Autobahn and that was a lot of fun but kind of scary, too, because everybody was going so fast,” Hayes said. “Papa went pretty slow, though.”

But Hayes said his granddad showed no fear when he put on the snow skis.

“Papa did good,” he said.

Schischule St. Johann included group lessons and Hayes and his cousins also took private lessons.

Hayes zipped through the gates and jumped the ramps and felt good on the skis. Each day, he was a little more self-confident, skied a bit faster and soon showed no fear on the mountain.

“The last day we had the race from the top of the mountain,” Hayes said.

“I was a little nervous when I was standing up there looking down but once I got started it was just a lot of fun. I thought I went fast but I didn’t think that I had gone fast enough to win. But I did. I was excited and proud.”

With a slalom medal to his credit, Hayes said he would like to have more opportunities to snow ski but, there aren’t any places around Pike County to train.

The Pike Liberal Art School seventh-grader plays football and baseball and will now turn his attention to those sports.

But, somewhere in the back of his mind, he’ll be back in the Alps with his snow goggles down and his skis kicking up powder on another medal run down the mountain.

Hayes is the son of Natalie Norman Lankford of Troy.