It was written in the cards for Chris that he would be a winter athlete of Olympic proportion, born in Vail, Colorado and growing into the stature of a strong athletic young man with a desire to be as active as he could. Then the timing of coming to age at the same time as snowboarding the two’s future became intertwined. Chris learned to ski at a very early age and loved many kinds of winter sports. He and his family moved to Bend, Oregon in 1976, where Chris found snowboarding. The gear for snowboarding was still in an evolutionary stage and Chis began riding in Moon Boots, wrapping duck tape around the ankles to give the boots stiffness and control the flex, he eventually evolved to Sorrels which would be considered noodles but todays standards.
Growing up in Bend in the early years was a great opportunity for Chris, where with all the pacific snow they receive riding powder with his friends and having fun were top priority, maybe not so much has changed in that capacity. Mt. Bachelor, Chris’s home mountain was a mecca for snowboarding in the early years, where Chris grew up chasing young men who would go on to be legends such as John Caulkins, Kris Jamieson, Chris Karol, Mike Ranquet, Todd Van Belkum and Craig Kelly.
Chris had a talent for going fast and took to competitive snowboard racing as a junior in the amateur ranks. His early successes at local events took him on to participation in the Northwest Race Series. In this series Chris and his good friend Tad Dobson would win the majority of events and Chris became the Northwest Series Overall Champion two years running. At this stage of competitive snowboard competition, riders would took part in all of the events which included giant slalom, halfpipe, moguls, and slalom. With thelarge amounts of snow in the Pacific Northwest where Chris was competing, most of the alpine events (G.S. and S.L.) ended up being banked slaloms, something that paid of for Chris and his Olympic career, going on to win the famed Mt. Baker Banked Slalomthree times as an amateur before becoming a pro snowboarder.
Things went to a new level when Chris traveled to Banff, Canada for the North American Championship where he placed second in the junior halfpipe competition. That spring in Stratton, Vermont at the U.S. Open he finished second in the mogul event to J.J. Collier and second in the slalom. Jeff Brushie a pro rider beat Chris by two seconds in the slalom. It was becoming clear that Chris had talent and at Snow Valley, California in 1989 he was named the U.S.A.S.A. National Amateur Champion in Slalom and Super-G. This gave him the confidence to begin competing professionally on the P.S.T.A. Tour, as a sixteen year old high school sophomore, where he claimed his first tour victory at Hunter Mountain, New York, winning a check for $ 4,000. In 1991 he became a full-time professional, and participated in his first World Cup event in Garmish, Germany finishing eighth in slalom in a strong international showing.
From here Chris worked hard and began winning World Cup victories, Grand Prix wins, National titles, a U.S. Open Victory, and a sixth place in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano Japan. What is even more astonishing about these performances is that the majority of the time a terminal condition was looming over Chris every day. Chris Klug was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) in 1991, a rare degenerative bile duct condition that causes liver failure. The only cure is a liver transplant from a registered organ donor. The disease causes inflammation and subsequent obstruction of bile ducts both at an intrahepatic (inside the liver) and extrahepatic (outside the liver) level. The inflammation impedes the flow of bile to the gut, which can ultimately lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer. The underlying cause of the inflammation is believed to be autoimmunity and more than 80% of those with PSC have ulcerative colitis.
Some of the liver failure symptoms one can experience include: severe jaundice with intense itching/ pruritus, chronic fatigue, malabsorption, steatorrhea (fatty stool) due to biliary obstruction, low levels of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, dark urine due to excess conjugated bilirubin, which is water soluble, being excreted by the kidneys, and hepatic encephalopathy which is an altered level of consciousness or confusion caused by liver dysfunction.
Chris stayed focused and optimistic and on July 28, 2000 he received his lifesaving liver transplant and only 18 months after his transplant Chris won a Bronze medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics! This made Chris the first person with an organ transplant to win an Olympic medal. Chris’s struggle to be an Olympic snowboarder against such challenges is truly inspirational. After winning his medal Chris felt so fortunate he started the Chris Klug Foundation to help save lives and promote a healthy, active life post transplant. Founded in October of 2003, The Chris Klug Foundation is dedicated to promoting lifesaving organ and tissue donation and improving the quality of life for those touched by donation.Through programs they reach tens of thousands of young people each year, equipping them with facts about organ donation so they can make educated decisions. Their mission is to increase the number of organ and tissue donors by focusing on educating young people about organ and tissue donation allowing them to make an educated decision at the Division of Motor Vehicles and giving the tools to discuss their decision with family and friends.
He feels so fortunate to have had a unique opportunity of being a part of snowboarding’s evolution from wooden boards with bungee strap bindings, and leashes that extended from the tip of the board to your front hand, to state-of-the-art equipment, and the arrival of snowboarding competition in the Olympic Games. Through all of this change, I still love to snowboard. This is why I continue to do it! I have been so fortunate to have met such wonderful people in this sport, and to enjoy together a great sport!”