By JIM COOMBS, Valley Community Newspapers writer
McClatchy High School’s only Olympic athlete is Starr Walton-Hurley who competed in skiing in the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Starr, who graduated from CKM in 1960, is one of first 50 individuals (between 1938-1962) chosen to be inducted into McClatchy’s Sports Hall of Fame on September 20, at the Elks Club as part of McClatchy’s 75-year Anniversary Dinner.
Starr was born in Yuba City but moved to Sacramento and attended Joaquin Miller and later McClatchy. Her grandparents were involved with the Soda Springs Hotel, the Donner Ski Ranch and managed Sugar Bowl in the 1930’s and 40’s. When her father went off to war in 1945, she moved to the mountains with her grandparents and began skiing at age three. She won her first race at five and was hooked for life. She was both the Junior and Senior National Champion and Skier of the Year in 1963.
High school life was challenging as a skier. “McClatchy was lots of fun,” she laughed, and “Mr. Pepper was always cutting out articles about my races for me.” Living in South Land Park, she remembers walking to school through Land Park with her friends. Other happy times include her first car, a blue military jeep, that she drove to school each day her senior year. Mrs. Johnson (Johnny) was one of her favorite teachers, and all of her teachers were supportive of her efforts to become a world-class skier.
With the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, she broke her foot right before trials, but she carried the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony, which was quite an honor for a local girl. She also helped Stan Atkinson and Stu Nahan get interviews with the American athletes that she knew for local television stations. Later that year, she came back to beat many of the Olympic athletes in races.
“To get to the Olympics, my parents paid for everything including various competitions. I represented Sugar Bowl and they gave us a little money, but you couldn’t take a lot of money because you were considered an amateur. Only amateurs could compete back then. We had no logos, no labels. Things were a bit different then, no endorsements. We had to give back all of our equipment after the games.” Starr smiled as she called herself a “flatlander,” a person who lived in Sacramento but skied every weekend at Soda Springs or Sugar Bowl.
After graduating from McClatchy, Starr attended Sacramento City College and then transferred to University of Colorado, Boulder where she could ski and try out for the 1964 Olympic team. They picked six women every four years, and in 1964, at Innsbruck, she was the top US finisher in the downhill (14th) dominated by Europeans with a time of 2:01.45. She finished 9th in the world at the end of the ski season and laughed as she called herself “The fastest American woman skier in 1963 and 1964.”
When asked about her favorite Olympic moments, she said there were two of them. “One was walking in behind the children who carry the United States name plate and walking into the stadium in your uniform as part of the United States team with all of the other competitors. It’s pretty awesome! The reality hits you! It’s like, I‘m an Olympian!”
“My second favorite memory is the closing ceremony. All of the athletes come in together. It’s an unstructured parade, and I remember walking in with the friends that I had made. It really kind of states the camaraderie that has occurred. You may be competitors but, on the other hand, you are new friends and it is incredible.”
After the Olympics, she lived in Vail, Colorado for a while before moving to Sacramento and San Francisco where she worked for United Airlines. Later, she continued in the ski business with “Starr Trekks” where she led groups of skiers all over the world on ski trips. In 2002, she was again an Olympic Torch Bearer for the Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Utah, and in 2010 carried the torch in Squaw Valley for the 50-year Olympic anniversary celebration.”
Today, Starr is known throughout Sacramento as “the ultimate volunteer.” She is President of the Land Park Zoo Association, a trustee on the Crocker Museum Board, and named Volunteer of the Year by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. She is an active volunteer with the Northern California Olympians, the Sacramento Sister City Council, and the Leadership Council of UC Davis Medical Center and Drexel University. Widowed, her husband was a famous cardiac surgeon at UC Davis Med Center. In her few minutes of spare time, she can be found playing golf at El Macero.
When meeting and talking with Starr, you can see a person who loves life and truly cares about people. And, you can still see that 15-year-old flying down the Sierra slopes, taking on all comers.
“I have a passion for skiing. I still ski all the time. I am on the slopes and I ski with anybody. I enjoy watching the beginners as their face goes from anxiety to this wonderful realization that they can do it!!! When I go to Sun Valley and ski with the “big boys,” as I call them, and I am cruising at 70 miles an hour down that mountain, I am in Hog Heaven. I am loving every minute of it and I do wear a helmet.”
This is the second in a series of articles about athletes and teams chosen to be part of McClatchy’s Sports Hall of Fame induction to be held on September 20. For more information about the members/teams and how you can attend the 75-Year Celebration, go to restoretheroar.org.