FRANCONIA - Olympic and world champion skier Bode Miller struck gold in a different way Saturday during the 9th annual BodeFest at Cannon Mountain by connecting with - and inspiring - hundreds of children and their parents to help expand athletic opportunities for all youngsters.
A Franconia native and a "Cannon kid" who honed his racing technique on the mountain, Miller returned to a hero's welcome Saturday, leading About 430-paid attendees down a good natured race that ended on the Gremlin Trail with him in first and gasps and raves about his skills from onlookers.
Once off the mountain, Miller changed from his racing gear to his civilian duds and started signing autographs and posing for photos, both of which are two of the most popular components of BodeFest, a primary fundraiser for the Turtle Ridge Foundation.
The foundation was founded in 2005 by Miller and his family "to provide a voice to people and organizations that empower individuals to solve difficult environmental protection issues and to offer the opportunity for our disabled community and young people to participate in a variety of sports and recreational activities that would not be available to them without our help."
The Turtle Ridge Foundation has supported, among others, the New Hampshire Boys & Girls Club of America; Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country; New England Disabled Sports; North County Recreation, Cheer & Football; D'Acres; and youth summer camps and scholarship programs throughout the Granite State.
In 2013, BodeFest raised nearly $40,000, thanks to a new partnership with Positive Tracks which matched all funds raised by those under 23 years of age.
Based in Hanover, Positive Tracks returned to BodeFest this year and founder Nini Meyer of Lyme, who is also the association's executive director, and Liz Gray of Canaan, who is the Positive Tracks coordinator, said they were thrilled to be back.
Positive Tracks began in 2009 as a fundraiser for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to support nine-year-old young leukemia patient Cameron Marshall.
The group in 2011 added the Dempsey Challenge, benefiting the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston, Maine, as its second founding Positive Tracks event partner. In 2013, Turtle Ridge Foundation became its eighth.
Positive Tracks awards "Youth Challenge Grants" to partners "to match fundraising dollars of participants ages 23 and under, encouraging young people to turn athletic achievement into innovative, meaningful philanthropy." According to its website, Positive Tracks is projected to raise $1,560,000 in 2014 for a total of $4,165,975 since its inception.
Meyer said Positive Tracks works with partners nationwide and counts both Dempsey and Miller as advocates.
"Bode's an amazing spokesperson," said Meyer, who added that his sister Kyla Miller, who heads the Turtle Ridge Foundation, works equally hard and as effectively.