Andrea Bario Mead Lawrence (who preferred to be called, “Andy”) teetered on her skis, and on the edge of history, at the top of the slalom run in Rødkleiva, Norway. The 1952 Winter Olympics had begun well: just a few days earlier her performance on the giant slalom had earned her, and the United States, a gold medal.
Thus far, however, she was not excelling on the slalom; she had fallen on her first run. Her only opportunity to win a second gold was riding on this second, final, run. Above all, she needed to focus.
One could have forgiven her if she was distracted. After all, she was nineteen-years-old, a newlywed, and knew better than anyone just how improbable it would be for her to win two golds: no American skier had ever accomplished that feat in the Winter Olympics.
She pushed off, poled hard into the slope, tucked into position, and, as she would relate later, “was released as the full force and energy of who I am as a person.”
Andrea Lawrence’s entire life was one of force and energy. When she died on March 31st, 2009, after a nearly decade-long fight against cancer, her impact as an athlete, conservationist and activist was well known up and down our precious Sierra Nevada.
She first moved to Mammoth Lakes in 1968. Within months she was asked to lead the effort against a plan to build eight-story condominiums near the ski slopes. Those condos were never built, and she went on to vigorously defend much of the eastern Sierra Nevada, including Mono Lake and the town of Bodie.
In 1982 she was elected to the Mono County Board of Supervisors, where she served four terms.
She never lost her love of skiing, continuing to be seen on the slopes until the cancer finally got the best of her. (When she skied non-competively she skied without poles, calling them “crutches.”)
Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law an act that named a mountain peak, not far from Donohue Pass and Mount Donohue, Mount Andrea Lawrence. The peak is plainly visible from the John Muir Trail as you walk through the Rush Creek drainage.
That you can see the peak from the trail makes perfect sense. Andrea Lawrence once said, “There are a few times in our lives where we become the thing we’re doing.” The closest most of us will come to achieving that sort of fusion of mind, body and place—that sort of physical and spiritual unity—might be hiking the JMT.
It took her one minute, 3.4 seconds, to negotiate her way down the slalom course on that winter day, good enough to win her second gold medal of the games. Six decades later, no American alpine skier, man or woman, has equaled that in the winter Olympics. The achievement towers over American Olympic history, just as the mountain that bears her name towers over the central Sierra Nevada.
Good hiking, Ray