The year was 1956. The place was Cortina, Italy. A young 21-year-old Austrian made skiing history that year. His name was Toni Sailer, known in the skiing world as “The Black Blitz from Kitz.” He was the first winter Olympian to win three golds in one year and a gold in the World Championships.
After retiring from competition in 1959, he became a singer and an actor, starring in many European movies. But that’s another story.
“The Black Blitz from Kitz” was born and lived most of his life in Kitzbuhel, Austria, a famous ski town in the Tyrolian Alps. The entire sports world at the time envied his prowess on the slopes, as well as his handsome looks and continental charm. He was also a true gentleman that won the hearts of all fortunate enough to have met him.
I had that privilege between Christmas of 1957 and New Year’s of 1958. He was world famous at the time, and I was a small fry in the U.S. Army stationed in Southern Germany on leave in Kitzbuhel for the holidays.
After skiing one day, I walked into a soda and pastry shop for a little refreshment and was waited on by a pretty Austrian maiden by the name of Trudi Proxmeir. Her red cheeks and blonde hair arose the youthful brashness in me and I engaged her in conversation that ended up with me requesting her company on New Year’s Eve. Her family owned the shop and a full-fledged bar and restaurant in the back. The Proxmeir family was famous in their own right, being a singing and dancing troupe specializing in Tyrolian and Austrian folk music.
I was both stunned and delighted that she accepted my invitation. The only condition was that I attend a private party at her parent’s restaurant on New Year’s Eve.
She was seated to my right and low and behold, Toni Sailer was seated directly across from me. We had a pleasant conversation that evening, discussing that we were both born the same year only three days apart. We discussed our mutual love of the mountains, how different the first 10 years of our lives were, he being raised under Hitler and me under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and many other things of interest to us. The evening went too fast and I never saw him or Trudi again on future trips to Austria.
I did find out that Trudi and Toni were childhood sweethearts. I suspect that the only reason I was included in the festivities was to cause some jealousy on Toni’s part. My youthful feelings were not hurt. I felt honored to be used that way and would do it again given the chance.
Fast forward to winter 2013 on a recent trip to Florida, where I met up with Ellicottville’s Jack Hushen and Kim Spzaicher. Jack was reading a local Punta Gorda newspaper and spotted an ad for a new nightclub that just opened only a few miles from his home. The ad announced a famous bar person for her Banana Foster martini, and her name was Natalie Sailer from Kitzhuhel, Austria.
After Jack heard my story we paid a visit to the nightclub, and standing behind the bar was Natalie – radiating the freshness of the Tyrolian Alps. We discovered that Toni was her great uncle, whom she loved. His victories were 20 years before she was born, but nonetheless were familiar to her.
She explained that he passed away three years ago at the age of 73. He was married twice but never to that wonderful alpine beauty I met so long ago. We took pictures and vowed to get together on my next trip to Florida.
“Es ist eine kleine welt.”