Sports

‘Miracle on Ice’ man visits Bremerton

Jim Craig, who was the goaltender on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that upset the Soviet Union and Finland to win a gold medal, spoke Monday in Bremerton about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms. He is touring the U.S. as part of the Ultimate SAAAVE campaign. - Courtesy photo
Jim Craig, who was the goaltender on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that upset the Soviet Union and Finland to win a gold medal, spoke Monday in Bremerton about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms. He is touring the U.S. as part of the Ultimate SAAAVE campaign.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Eight years before his father’s sudden death in 1988, Jim Craig anchored his team to perhaps the single-greatest upset victory in American sports history.

Craig, then 21, was the starting goaltender on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union, 4-3, in the semifinals of the Lake Placid Winter Games to advance to the world championship. Two days later, the U.S. defeated Finland, 4-2, to earn an improbable Olympic hockey gold medal.

The win over the Soviets, leading to the world title, is now dubbed both in theatre and symbol “The Miracle on Ice.”

After all, “The Red Russian Army,” in the words of Craig, had outscored its opponents 34-3 leading into the U.S. match, won 45 of 50 games overall, beat the U.S. 10-3 just two weeks earlier and owned hockey gold medals from each of the four previous Winter Olympics — 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.

“Everybody said it was impossible,” Craig said.

Today, however, believing hard works trump the improbable, Craig tells a story more grand than gold.

The 51-year-old Easton, Mass. native is touring America as a national spokesperson for Gore Medical’s Ultimate SAAAVE (Screening Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Very Efficiently) campaign, which is aimed at educating citizens on the risks associated with abdominal aortic aneurysms, commonly called “triple-A.”

The tour came to Bremerton’s Kitsap Conference Center Monday, where about 50 doctors, physicians and referring clinicians gathered to hear Craig’s story.

“This awareness campaign is very special because we can save some lives,” Craig said. “With the graying of America where people are going to be of age, it’s important that people know. I think the biggest thing is is it’s a silent killer.”

The hockey-player-turned-medical-spokesman knows first hand; his father, Don, died of a ruptured triple-A at the age of 68. His father’s death, Craig said, could have been prevented with simple check-ups and a vascular profile.

“He had symptoms that should have told somebody, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a history of aneurysms in the family, he had a heart attack, he smoked, he had high blood pressure,’” Craig said. “So he should have been checked.”

But he wasn’t checked, leaving Craig fatherless before the age of 30. The fact his father, who also had a massive heart attack at 48, never met Craig’s children is what inspired him to take the initiative with triple-A awareness and education.

This is his third year touring America.

“Everything is preventable, it’s just work,” Craig said. “I don’t want to see anybody have their loved one die when it’s preventable.”

Craig’s tour of the Pacific Northwest also included a visit to the Polyclinic in Seattle, where he attended a medical education seminar before talking to a group of vascular surgeons and other healthcare professionals.

“This is preventable, all it takes is awareness,” he said. “We want to make people aware that something like this is preventable.”

Craig called triple-A’s “a ballooning of the aorta,” typically affecting people over the age of 50. When the “balloon” bursts, it bleeds.

The disease can hit anybody, Craig said, but in most cases it affects smokers and people with either high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease.

The best prevention method is simply to be checked.

“Do you smoke, do you have high blood pressure, is there a family history of cardiovascular disease, is there a history of aneurysms in your family? If any of those answers are ‘yes,’ people need to get an ultrasound and get screened,” Craig said.

He draws from his memories of the 1980 U.S. Gold medal team to inspire others, combining passion with drive, heart with ambition and sport with medicine.

He said it’s the responsibility of today’s youth to encourage their elders to be tested. He also holds himself accountable each time he talks to a group of doctors, saying “each event is a win or a loss.”

“What happens is you realize that you can’t be sitting back and just be happy with what your doing, you have to always improve and you have to make people accountable for what they’re doing,” he said.

With two children of his own, son J.D. and daughter Taylor, Craig said he plans to continue his motivational campaign work. One day, he hopes to meet his grandchildren.

“People always ask me, ‘Jimmy, how’d you know your dad had an aneurysm? I knew it when he was dead, that’s how I knew,” Craig said. “Whoever you know, you ought to tell people about this.”

From small-town Massachusetts to the gold medal podium to his father’s funeral to Bremerton and the bumps between, Craig delivers his message to anybody who will listen.

“At one time I was representing my country in the sport of ice hockey and now I represent my country in saving lives,” he said. “It’s very important because I know how sad I was not to have my father meet my children.

And so if you can just do that for one person, if your story does that for five people to go get screened and if it educates another 30 and saves a couple lives ... how many stories are you going to write in your lifetime where you’re going to impact that many people? That’s the important part.”

To learn more about the Ultimate SAAAVE campaign and triple-A, visit http://ultimatesaaave.com/.

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