Lucille Wheeler

Olympic medalist

Lucille Wheeler (born January 14, 1935 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian former Alpine skiing world champion. Lucille Wheeler grew up in the village of Saint-Jovite, Quebec in the Laurentian mountains where her family was instrumental in promoting the sport of skiing and where her grandfather George Wheeler built the famous Gray Rocks ski center at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Taught to ski at the age of two, Lucille Wheeler's skills were such that she was soon competing against older skiers. At age 10, she finished seventh in a downhill ski event at Mont Tremblant in a race that was open to participants of all ages. By age 12, she had won the Canadian junior ski championship and at 14 was selected to compete for Canada in the world championships in Aspen, Colorado. However, her parents felt she was too young to miss school and did not allow her to go.

The early 1950s was still a time when resources for Canadian skiers were extremely limited. There was very little in the way of government funding to cover expenses for skiers wishing to compete on the world stage or to pay for professional training. Recognizing their daughter's gifts, Lucille Wheeler's parents bore the expense for her to spend several winters training in Kitzbühel, Austria. It paid off when she became her country's and North America's first ever Olympic medallist, winning the bronze at the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. She followed this with a spectacular performance at the 1958 International Ski Federation World Championships in Bad Gastein, Austria where she won both the downhill and the giant slalom events and came very close to winning the combined title.

Wheeler was voted the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's most outstanding athlete of 1958 and was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame. In 1976, she was made a member of the Order of Canada, her country's highest civilian honor, and was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Following her retirement from competitive racing in 1959, Wheeler, along with Réal Charette, was a ski instructor in a film made at the Banff, Alberta ski resort that won the American Library Association's award as the best educational sports film of 1960. A few years later, she married Canadian Football League Hall of Fame player Kaye Vaughan. For a time the couple lived in Ottawa, Ontario but in 1967 they moved to the village of Knowlton, Quebec in the heart of a ski area known as the Eastern Townships. The mother of two children, at the high school in the nearby town of Cowansville Lucille Wheeler-Vaughan organized a ski program, introducing 14-and-under children to the sport.

Lucille Wheeler's breakthrough performance resulted in an increase in government funding that enabled other Canadian skiers to compete at the international level. Her achievements were also instrumental in increasing the popularity of the sport both nationwide and in her native Quebec where what was once a remote destination in the Laurentian mountains for only a limited few became a thriving ski area with an abundance of quality facilities that attracts hundreds of thousands of skiers every winter.