Hall of Fame Class of 1969
A legend in his own lifetime, Jackrabbit Smith-Johannsen’s cross-country skiing feats and enthusiasm will possibly never be equaled by any living Canadian or American over the trails and racing courses he made famous.
Herman Smith-Johannsen was born in Horten, Norway on June 15, 1875. Herman, like most Norwegian youngsters, did a considerable amount of skiing – mostly cross-country. All young Norwegians were required to enter military service for a spell. Herman did his stint, coming out as a lieutenant. He then went to a German university where he got a degree in civil engineering. Jack Rabbit immigrated to Canada by the way of Cleveland, Ohio in 1899.
Smith-Johannsen came to Cleveland to sell heavy railroad equipment. He always intended to come to North America, make a lot of money and return to Norway to live. However, he stayed to make a different career and name for himself.
He did become disenchanted with the wasteful practices of the companies in the United States, particularly the railroads. This was the era when the United States was moving West and becoming highly industrialized. Jackrabbit was unhappy with the new industrialized and urbanized society being formed. During the depression years he moved his family to the Quebec countryside and literally lived off the land.
Herman Smith-Johannsen kept his skis with him whenever possible. He met Cree Indians who, on snowshoes, were fascinated by his skill on skis in the deep woods. He gained his name Jackrabbit from the Cree at that time. He bushwacked all over eastern Canada on skis. He found time to construct the famed Maple Leaf Trail among others. Jackrabbit helped reconfigure some trails in the Lake Placid area. All the while, he competed in cross-country races as they arose.
And – Jackrabbit skied and skied. He entered competitions on both sides of the border, often winning over skiers one-third his age and at age eighty, was considered a geriatric marvel. At age one hundred he still skied, although he admitted that the “competition was getting better” since he was placing more third and fourth places in races. At age one hundred and two, this legend still claimed he could ski twenty miles a day but he would be “completely exhausted” at the end on the trek.
At one hundred and eight, he did some skiing although his legs were tiring and his eyesight and hearing were starting to fail. However, he was still able to travel and do things for himself. He remained a life- long ambassador for cross-country skiing and healthy outdoor living.
Although he was living a serene life under the watchful eye of his daughter, Alice, he was by no means relegated to the rocking chair. At age 111, he contracted pneumonia while visiting his old stomping grounds in Norway and passed on, a truly amazing man. He was still officiating cross-country competition right up to the end.
Without a doubt, Herman “Chief Jackrabbit” Smith-Johannsen was one of the most remarkable legends in the world of sport. For his contributions to the sport of skiing, he was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1969.
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