Willie Neal Award

Willie Neal with Rainbow behind him.
This award was created in honor of the life and contribution to Wyoming skiing made by Willie Neal. He grew up in Jackson Hole, and from 2004 to 2008, skied for both Jackson Hole High School and the
Jackson Hole Ski Club.

Willie skied in 5 Junior National Championships, in which he was a multiple-time All-American, 3 Senior National Championships, represented the United States on the 2008 Scandinavia Cup Ski Team, and looked forward to skiing for the Middlebury College Ski Team.

He is the only skier to have ever won 8 Wyoming State Nordic Skiing championships, for which he was featured in Sports Illustrated "Faces in the Crowd". Willie truly pushed Wyoming skiing to another level.

He was a humble and gracious competitor, never putting himself before others, and quick to help other skiers, regardless of their team affiliation. He was a leader and set an example of great sportsmanship.

He was also passionate about each person's individual responsibility to make a difference in this world. He believed, as did Mahatma Gandhi, that we should each "be the change we wish to see in the world". Willie was involved in and effected change in his community, his region, his state and in his nation. He was interested in the political process as a means of making change, so represented Wyoming as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

The Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund (WNEAF online at www.wnealenvirofund.org/) was created in memory of Willie. "The WNEAF is committed to increasing awareness of the environmental impact of individual behavior and choices" by "promoting responsible choices through education, community involvement, and environmental initiatives."

His passion, his integrity, and his involvement inspired many others to not only share his vision of a
better world, but to create their own vision, get involved, and become better people in the process. This award is meant to honor his legacy and inspire other Wyoming skiers to make a difference in our
State and in our world.

This award is base on the following criterion:
- dedication to skiing/commitment to training and a "never give-up" attitude
- competitive results (State races, Junior Nationals, etc.)
- good sportsmanship, demonstrating humility and integrity
- leadership within Wyoming skiing
- leadership within their community
- ability to inspire others to get involved, to achieve and to "reach higher"

2016 Willie Neal Award Recipient:

Lucas Thorsness

Lucas has been skiing for most of his life but in the last two years he has found the love!  He has become one of the most inspiring athletes, outdoor enthusiasts and leaders we have had the privilege to coach!  He is the first one on the bus and the last one cleaning up after long trips.  He is the one taking gear back to the bus after a race and the first one to rally his teammates to help.  Lucas leads by example.  He is there cheering for every skier and is always willing to help his teammates wax and scrape their skis.  He has become a student of the sport, he asks intelligent questions and puts them into practice.  He sees the big picture.  His leadership crosses over to extra curricular activities as well.  Lucas is an active environmental advocate and is always asking about environmental issues and the solutions to them.  He also, during the height of the Ferguson incident, wanted to start a movement against racial discrimination by gaining support from Facebook friends to do something to show support for minorities and reduce racism.  In his spar time Lucas heads up a recycling effort on the ski bus and is a great example to his peers.  Then, after all that, he rides his bike home at the end of the day.  All of these qualities, we believe, make him a natural fit for the Willie Neal award. 

2014 Willie Neal Award Recipient:

Calder Kempema

Calder is rocking the state of Wyoming this year!  After 3 years of receiving the Most Improved Skier award at the post ski banquets, he has hit the top and isn't going to stop!  He has become the man to beat in skate races this year.  Calder easily qualified for Jr. Nationals this year and is excited to see what it takes to compete at the national level.  His future seems bright as he has already received the trustees scholarship from UW and is waiting to hear the final go ahead from the Air Force Academy.  On top of all of these accomplishments, he is the most genuine, thoughtful person you will ever have the chance to meet!  Practical and down to earth, he leads the Laramie team with ease and grace as one of its co-captain.  Calder has worked for every medal he has earned and has demonstrated amazing sportsmanship throughout the years.   We proudly nominate Calder Kempema for the Willie Neal award for 2014.
Submitted by LHS Nordic Ski Coach Rebecca Watson