Gold medalist raises eyebrows in message to his alma mater

Saturday, March 9, 2002

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Gold medal winner Jimmy Shea urged students at his alma mater to live life to the fullest Friday, but raised a few eyebrows with comments on underage drinking.

Shea, whose grandfather was killed Jan. 22 in a car accident that police have blamed on a drunken driver, made his comments to students at Conard High School, where he was welcomed after winning a gold medal in skeleton in Salt Lake City.

"I'm not saying not to drink; I drank a lot in this school," Shea said to thunderous applause from students. "What I'm saying is, don't die. Don't be crippled for the rest of your life, don't lose your arm, don't mangle your face."

Later Friday, Shea, sought to clarify his remarks.

"I want to make it very clear that I do not condone or encourage underage drinking. However, I refuse to ignore the issue of teen-age drinking in high school," Shea said in a written statement. "My comments to students were open and honest, and were based on my own experiences as a high school student."

Shea, 33, graduated from Conard in 1987.

Shea's family is the first to produce three generations of Winter Olympians. Shea's grandfather, Jack, won two gold medals in speedskating at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Jimmy's father, Jim Shea Sr., competed in Nordic skiing in 1964 in Innsbruck.

College a must, Shea says

Shea also urged students to go to college and told them to put effort into all that they do.

"Anything can happen. I never thought I could win a gold medal," he said. "But it's not in the medal, it's in the journey."

Students said they enjoyed the speech, but some were surprised by Shea's message.

"It was definitely cool, more like he's got a connection with the students rather than the faculty. He seems like a down-to-earth guy," said student council president Todd Olmstead.

"At the same time, it's kind of a bad example. I know the administration is not entirely pleased with that. But kids probably drink no matter what."

He added that Shea's message about drinking and driving was "very powerful."

Shea performed 24 hours of community service and paid a $1,290 fine after pleading guilty to driving under the influence in 1997 in Park City, Utah. According to court records, his guilty plea was dismissed once he completed six months of probation.

Some faculty members said they were disappointed in Shea's comments.

"Overall the tone was good, but it was surprising," said Barbara Sykes, who teaches special education classes and coaches the track team. "As a coach who is trying to be a role model, it's kind of discouraging."

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