SARANAC LAKE - Olympic champion and Vermontville native Bill Demong was enshrined Saturday as the first inductee to the Saranac Lake Walk of Fame.
Demong, a four-time Olympian who won gold and silver medals in nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing) at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, was the guest of honor at a Walk of Fame induction ceremony and reception at the Hotel Saranac.
The Walk of Fame was created last year by the village Board of Trustees as a way to recognize notable community residents and celebrate village history.
Olympic gold medalist Bill Demong and Saranac Lake mayor Clyde Rabideau watch as Town of Franklin Supervisor Art Willman unveils the plaque declaring Demong as the first member of the village’s Walk of Fame.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"To be the first is a real honor," Demong told the Enterprise after the ceremony. "I hope that as other people from Saranac Lake can go on to do great things around the world and around the country, that it becomes something for the village to be proud of."
Leo and Helen Demong, Bill's parents, both spoke at the induction ceremony, sharing stories of their son growing up and learning to ski in the Saranac Lake area.
"I never expected for him to be a gold medalist," Leo Demong said. "But that was always his goal. I remember when he was about 10 and I was getting after him to clean his room or mow the lawn. He stood in the doorway of the living room and said, 'Hey, I'm trying to win an Olympics here.'"
Both Leo and Helen Demong thanked the community for its support of Bill over the years.
"This means a lot to have the people he grew up with recognize that he had a humble beginning, and through a lot of hard work and tremendous support from our local neighbors and the sports venues we have, he has gone a long way," Helen Demong said. "To have the village reach out to him and say, 'We want you to be our first inductee,' it's a tremendous honor."
Demong was praised for his character as much as his athletic achievements.
"Billy's always been proud of saying he's from Vermontville, New York," said town of Franklin Supervisor Art Willman. "To say we have such a fine gentlemen, an Olympian and a gold-medal Olympian at that, who comes from our small town, is one giant step beyond special."
"I'm very proud of Bill's accomplishments as an athlete, but the thing I'm most proud of him for is the fact that he's kept a level head and a kind spirit through all the success that he's had," said Leo Demong said. "It goes without saying that he has some fabulous athletic talents. But the biggest gifts that he got are determination and dedication."
Demong's former ski jumping coach, Larry Stone, told the audience that Bill has endured his share of adversity over the years, including his early struggles with jumping and a pair of serious head injuries that threatened his athletic career.
"It hasn't always been smooth sailing," Stone said. "I can honestly say that watching Billy navigate through the series of circumstances he's had to face in his life has been as much an inspiration to me as it has been to everyone else."
Demong said he gained success by setting goals and pushing himself to achieve them. Last year, Demong said, he found a piece of paper from 2004, after his second head injury had grounded his career. He had written down a series of yearly goals, including making the World Cup team, making the World Cup top 10, winning his first World Championships and winning a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"Each year had one goal," Demong said. "It was so funny to find that paper and realize I did it all. I did every single thing along the way."
His athletic accomplishments aside, Demong said he hopes what he's remembered for most "is for having been a good person and making a difference."
With his family by his side, Demong, Willman and village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who hosted the ceremony, unveiled a solid bronze plaque featuring the village's new logo underscored by the words "Walk of Fame" and the inscription, "William Demong, Olympic Champion." The plaque will eventually be placed on the front facade of the Harrietstown Town Hall.
Demong said after the ceremony that he's been spending a lot of time at home in Park City, Utah lately with his wife Katie and their five-month-old Liam. But he has his sights set on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"That's why I essentially took last year off from training, to get a year to catch up on life and put myself in a position not only to be mentally refreshed but to be hungry to keep going," he said. "The next couple years are going to be a busy juggling game of continuing to help grow the sport, to be better than I've ever been and to be as good as a family man, husband and father I can be."
Rabideau said about 110 people were on the guest list for the semi-formal affair, which was held in the Hotel Saranac's second-floor reception hall and featured cocktails and hors d'oeurves catered by Nonna Fina restaurant. An exhibit of Demong's athletic achievements was displayed in the hotel's front windows.
Tickets to the induction ceremony were $30 per person or $50 per couple. Village officials have said all after-expense proceeds will be use for future Walk of Fame and Mayor's Cup events.