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Feature - first Person Terry "Toulouse" Spence

Two legends turned 60 in 2002. One was Paul McCartney. The other lives a little closer to home.

Full name:

Kenneth Terry Spence

Born:

Jan. 20, 1942 in Fort William, Ont.

Astrological sign:

Cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius

Marital status:

Happily married to Ann Spence with two kids: Nick and Mariah

Favourite colour:

Black or red.

Favourite drink:

A Stella Artois

Favourite recipe:

Chicken cacciatore.

Favourite place to eat:

My kitchen.

Hobbies:

Playing hockey, woodworking, and reading – I love to read.

Ideal pet:

A springer spaniel dog – Sam is sitting right here looking at me.

What’s the best place to live at Whistler:

Tapley’s Farm

Favourite memory at Whistler:

New Year’s Eve at Tokum Corners in 1980, at George Benjamen’s old place. Or my 30th birthday party at Soo Valley. It was a fantastic party on a brilliant winter evening. We drank a lot and got crazy.

Worst memory at Whistler:

When Seppo’s house burned down.

Most embarrassing moment:

That happened right here at our bed & breakfast when I walked in on some people in what I’ll call an awkward moment.

* * *

How did you get to Whistler?

I came out here to go skiing for a weekend in 1971 and I really liked it. I just came back, with Charlie Doyle, actually, and I stayed.

What were you leaving?

I’m from Thunder Bay, like Charlie – we were neighbours there, and we still are – but I was living in Toronto. I had worked for IBM for five years and I’d gone to Europe for six months. When I was in Europe, IBM phoned me and said, you’re supposed to be back here at work on Monday. I said, I won’t be back. He said, I don’t understand. I said no, you probably wouldn’t.

So you went to Europe and that was the start of your other life.

I came back from Europe and taught school for about four months. Then I left.

You are best known for your long stint as the masseur for the Canadian National Ski Team, especially during the time the Crazy Canucks were happening. How did you get into that?

Through John Ritchie (who was then head coach). I was studying massage here on the West Coast, and John Ritchie invited me to come and try out for a position with the national ski team. He had an opening since he fired the masseur they had in Europe because the guy kept smashing up cars. He’d get drunk and then take one of the team cars and smack it up.

He asked me if I’d be interested in taking the masseur job, and in being the start coach. He invited me to a camp in June down in Copper, Colorado. And I went down there and did the massage for the teams, both men and women, and John said, well, it looks like you got the job.

What was your first race like?

It was 1978. There was a cancellation at Val d’Isere and we went to Schladming (Austria). I was so nervous up in the start... All the guys take a nervous pee, but I was pissing more than they were. I didn’t know what was going on.

Why were you so nervous?

This was my first race, and these guys were hot. I was just nervous that I would do the right thing for them at the start, like massage their legs, and tell them the right information. When you’re the start coach, you have to relay the information to them that the coaches are sending up the course on the radio. And you warm up their muscles before they start.

Dave Murray was instrumental in encouraging me to continue on with ski coaching. So I started taking my ski instructor and coaching courses, and I got up to my Level III coach.

How long did you stick with it?

15 years.

That’s a long time. Did you ever get any flack for it?

I’m sure a number of people at times thought I was gay or something.

But it’s a serious position. What were your responsibilities?

I would have them all on a regular massage schedule. Every day I would do about four or five massages, sometimes more. You’d want to get these guys relaxed and keep their muscles in tone. If they had any stiffness, you would want to work on that. Sometimes Kenny Read had a stiff back, and I’d work on that. Steve (Podborski) had a couple of problems over the years – he got in a car accident here at Whistler and his neck got pretty stressed out, and I worked on that. Dave Irwin had a calcium deposit in his leg from a crash, so he liked that leg to be massaged. Dave Murray liked arm massages.

What made you good as a masseur?

I have a pretty good touch. And I studied with some pretty good people. I studied Touch For Health and some holistic healing techniques that helped me understand the human body. There are guys better than me, of course. But I can’t do it any more – I’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome now.

Were you working in conjunction with a physiotherapist, or were you it?

We had a physiotherapist come in every once in a while, but I was pretty much taking that on. Then Susie Mortenson (Susie Young at the time) came on for a couple of years for a few races, and she helped out a lot. She was good.

Give us one classic moment with the national team.

Ken Read in 1980: the first time we won at Kitzbuhel – it was unbelievable. Usually it was a European racer who won there and it was the first time for a Canadian.

It is the Number One downhill race in the world and always will be, and when Ken won it, we just went bananas. Of course, we won four years in a row, after that (this was the time of the Crazy Canucks’ legacy) – first Ken, then (Steve) Podborski won two years in a row, and then (Todd) Brooker won the next year. It was the biggest event of the year for ski racing. And if you were with the Canadian team you couldn’t buy a drink in the Londoner Pub in Kitzbuhel in those days – they gave them to you.

The next day Ken went in the combined (race) and I had to go up to the start – and boy did I ever feel bad. It was just awful. My head felt like I had hammers pounding in it. And here I am hiking up to the start, because the lift didn’t go all the way to the start of the slalom at Kitzbuhel, and I’m hiking up there with Ken thinking, maybe he’ll be merciful and go out in the first run so I can go home and get some sleep.

It sounds glamorous to travel with the national team. Is it? Or is it a grind?

Let me put glamorous in perspective... how glamorous do you think it is washing your socks in a bidet?

Are your meals and drinks paid for?

Your liquor is not paid for, that’s on your own. But I would take Toad Hall posters over there and sell a hundred of them and then have money for the whole year for drinks.

Why did you leave?

They bought out my contract. My wife was telling me it was time to get out of there, and they helped me. They were going to change the staff the next year, and go with a physiotherapist.

Sounds like it was just time to move on.

Well, we had two kids at the time too, and my wife needed me to help out. I would leave in August, be back and forth all fall and be gone most of the winter and back in the spring. So it wasn’t easy on her, especially with a two-year-old and a baby.

Have you kept your hand in skiing?

I’ve been teaching for Whistler Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard School for the last seven years.

So where did your nickname "Toulouse" come from?

That came from a little artwork I did. I was in Thunder Bay one night in ’71. We had been skiing at Loch Lomond, and afterward we went to the New Ontario Bar in what was then called Port Arthur (Thunder Bay). And there was a dancer – well, a stripper – and part of her act was to get somebody up on stage to paint her with these Day-Glo body paints while she stripped. And I volunteered.

I had on this downhill suit, with the top pulled down and tied around my waist, and this nylon windshirt underneath that had flowers on it, so I looked like a painter. So my friend said, ah, you’re just like Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted the women in the Moulin Rouge.

You are also one of the few people around who was in the famous, or would I say infamous, Toad Hall poster. Should we guess which one? (For readers who don’t know, this is a poster of a line of skiers, posing in front of an old log house with their equipment – and no clothes on.)

I’m the one with the blue and white helmet on.

You were really good friends with Chris Speedie, who took the photo. Why did you guys do it?

That was the main house at the Soo Valley Lumber Company. When they had their mill there, that was where all the men who worked there had their meals. It was 1973 and we had had been living at Soo Valley and Speedie just got a new camera. We were being evicted, so we thought we’d take a year-end photo, and that’s what we did.

Whose idea was the nude thing?

It was Speedie’s idea. He set it up and then he got in the picture, too. Unfortunately, Speedie passed away in September of heart failure. He was only 57. I always thought his liver would give out.

It was Kiwi (his real name was Tony) who actually took the picture, and Kiwi is dead. He was killed in a head-on collision. That’s one of my sad memories of Whistler, too.

You were also good friends with Dennis Waddingham. Tell us a good Waddingham tale.

Well some of those stories are a little outside the law. (Laughs.) Dennis started out on ski patrol with Hugh Smythe. I remember it was the first year they tried to have a World Cup at Whistler, I think it was 1975. It just kept raining and raining all week. At the end of it, they cancelled the race and we all came down off the hill and went to the Cheakamus Inn (which was located above the Highland Lodge). We were drinking there and it was just bedlam.

Dennis was going around, taking glasses of beer and pouring them down girls’ pants, and just howling with laughter. It was so funny – he was being so obnoxious. And the girls were going, oh Dennis, oh Dennis. The party ended when I got a fire extinguisher and fired it into the bar. Well, the guy just closed the bar and kicked me out. It was Ed Walmsley who owned it, and the Ski Boot, and the Christiana Inn – we called him Wormsley – and I was banned for life from his bars.

Has Whistler changed a lot for you?

It has changed immensely for me. But I just roll with it, because I love it whatever way it is. It’s been good to me for 30 years.

Are you a lifer?

I’m going out feet first! This is going to be my place forever, unless something happens to me that I can no longer participate in this place.

Well, you can’t beat the address, Easy Street.

That’s right. In my high school grad class, I was voted most likely to succeed, and I think I’m fulfilling that prophecy.




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