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Skier's life defined by one decision

Published: Monday, Jan. 24 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY – A month ago, Betty Lou Sine Stewart was going through some old boxes in her basement when she discovered buried treasure.

Inside the cardboard containers, Stewart found enough trophies, medals and precious prizes to fill a small high school trophy case. The cheerful 71-year-old also uncovered two tattered scrapbooks with dozens of old newspaper articles and black and white photos dating back to the 1950s.

The name Betty Lou Sine was everywhere.

Memories flooded back. She hadn’t seen these items in more than 35 years.

Among the articles was a magazine cover featuring Stewart and her older brother Wesley flying down an Alta ski slope. The magazine, published Jan. 14, 1957, carried the title “Sports Illustrated.” The magazine had featured few women on its cover since starting in 1954.

“We were picked because we were outstanding racers, and we represented the area,” Stewart said. “At the time I didn’t think much about it. To look back now it’s shocking.”

Stewart learned to ski on primitive equipment at age 6. Racing came at age 8. From 1948 to the early 1960s, she sprayed white powder from Vermont to the West Coast and rarely lost in the giant slalom event.

Stewart was trailing ski racer Jill Kinmont at the Alta Snow Cup in 1955 when Kinmont, the reigning national champion, broke her neck in a near-fatal accident.

“She (Kinmont) had just been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was set to make the Olympics. I was right behind her,” Stewart said. “I seldom fell, but my foot caught on something, causing me to crash at the same time she went down, which was a blessing because I would have been right upon her.”

There was no S.I. curse for Stewart. She was a member of the ski club at East High School and later a co-captain for the University of Utah ski team. Then, on the verge of making her own run at the Olympics, the ski champion decided to retire from racing. She did not look back.

The destiny-defining decision was based on her desires to have an eternal family and keep the Sabbath Day holy.

“There are decisions your have to make," Stewart said. "I realized I couldn’t ski on the Sabbath. I was fitting the Sabbath to meet my needs. I was attending every meeting but … from an eternal perspective, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. If I had continued to be a racer, I probably wouldn’t have married my husband, and I would have drifted (from the LDS Church).”

Her future husband, the late D. Michael Stewart, may have played a role in the decision, she hinted. Before leaving to serve an LDS mission in Switzerland, Michael and Betty Lou developed a relationship. Most of their first date took place on skis.

“I could tell he was intimidated," she recalls. "He could turn left well but not right. He was going so fast I thought he was going to die, and I was scared for him. But he had these knickers and a bobble hat and he was so cute. He eventually learned.”

After they married, skiing became the family hobby. Kids and grandchildren were taught to ski as soon as they could walk. Many became skilled skiers, but no one in the family races competitively.

On recreation ski trips, Michael bragged to the family about Betty Lou’s accolades, but she modestly deflected the praise.

“‘She is so calm and mild, then she gets on skis and her personality changes,’ he used to say, “ Stewart said. “I would say, ‘Oh Michael, I am in a rocking chair now.’”

Before Michael died in October, the couple raised seven children and welcomed 21 grandchildren. They have served for decades in the church, including assignments to preside over the Germany Frankfurt and the Salt Lake Temple Square missions.

Because her trophies and scrapbooks have been buried so long, Stewart suspects few in the family really know of her decorated past. She is very grateful her father clipped and kept the news articles. She intends to put everything on display in hopes the items will inspire her grandchildren to do great things.

More importantly, Stewart will tell the story of her decision to give up racing.

“How do you explain keeping the Sabbath Day holy to children when you are not doing it," she said. "We have a lot of athletes who do it, and that’s their choice, but for me, I couldn’t do it. I have no regrets.”

e-mail: ttoone@desnews.com

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