By John Blanchette | April 06, 2016, 12:22 p.m. (ET)
Chris Klug competes in parallel slalom at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 15, 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Chris Klug can appreciate fixes of every size and stripe.

The impromptu duct tape patch job that allowed him to win an Olympic medal, for instance.

And the liver transplant that kept him alive and got him to those Games.

Those disparate saves have reaffirmed to Klug that moments big and small have added up to something of a charmed life — as one of the figures who helped take snowboarding from perceived party sport to a centerpiece of the Olympic Winter Games, and as a driving force in a cause that can make medals seem pretty minor.

Taken together, those roles earn him another prize this week, when he’s inducted with six others into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame on Saturday in his hometown of Aspen, Colorado.

“It really has been an amazing ride,” said Klug, 43, “and this is a great way to celebrate it — not just for me, but a whole team of people who’ve been a huge part of it along the way.”

It’s also a little validation for all those young shredders who saw their discovery dismissed early on as skiing’s kooky little brother.

“Yeah, I was one of those guys,” Klug admitted. “I was an avid skateboarder who saw the first boards and was instantly hooked and never looked back.”

By 16, he was cashing in on professional events and was full-time right out of high school, soon becoming a podium regular in world cup (four golds), grand prix (three) and nationals (five) competition. And when snowboarding joined the Olympic program in 1998 in Nagano, he was on the team — his sixth-place finish there steeling his resolve to return and win a medal.

Which he did with a bronze-medal run in parallel giant slalom in 2002 in Park City, Utah, when U.S. snowboarders made the Winter Games their own.

Klug has made the story of that run — a win over Frenchman Nicolas Huet in the small final — part of Olympic lore: how he’d snapped an instep buckle on his boot during the first run, how team tech Jay Cooper frantically tried to repair it, how Huet and his coach graciously agreed to delay the start of the second run a few minutes, and how Cooper finally saved the moment with an improvised Plan B involving a pipe fastener and duct tape.

“I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Klug said with a laugh. “I was relying on the same technology I started with 20 years before, when I’d wrap duct tape around my Moon Boots.”

But, of course, that was the footnote to the larger story of how Klug even got to the 2002 Winter Games.

In his early 20s, Klug had been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver disease, and informed he would need a transplant. After six years on a waiting list, he went into a critical stage in 2000, his liver failing. It was that July when a 13-year-old boy named Billy Flood was killed in an accidental shooting. His family made his organs available for donation, and his liver was a match with Klug.

Nineteen months later, Klug was on the Olympic podium.

“I went from just hoping and praying I’d get a second chance in life,” he said, “to waking up the next day feeling like they’d dropped a new engine in me and that nothing was going to hold me back.

“It was a miracle — and an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Scary — I thought I was going to die at times. Back then, 16 people died every day on organ transplant waiting lists. But it gave me a heck of a perspective, and it shaped me into who I am.”

Which, among other things, is a vigorous advocate for organ donation. The day after his medal run, he met privately with members of the donor family. But his public face and message was all about the critical need for more organ donors, and continues to this day under the banner of the Chris Klug Foundation. Seeded with $3,000 out of his own pocket back then, it’s now a $350,000-a-year organization.

“I’m never shy to share my story — I’m proud of it and it’s important,” he said. “There are 120,000 people today waiting for solid organ transplants. It’s a cause of awareness and education — we can save those people. I’m grateful for my forum and proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

As it turned out, Klug’s Olympic story wasn’t finished — and there were more obstacles to overcome. He missed out on the 2006 Winter Games, but made it to Vancouver in 2010, even after being dropped off the national “A” team and having to form his own training team to keep going. At age 37, he knocked off the event’s No. 1 seed before elimination in the quarterfinals — not a bad coda to a remarkable career.

And yet he remembers his modest roots back in Oregon as much as the Olympic glory.

“When I got started, my favorite thing was riding in the back of my mom’s station wagon from one competition to another in the Northwest,” Klug said. “You had one board and you’d show up and do halfpipe in the morning — and it’s the competitors out there hand-shoveling — and then you’d do a mogul event and then a race. All on the same board. And maybe you’d win a headband or some goggles, and then it was back in the station wagon.

“It never surprised me that millions of people fell in love with it. Because I did, and I’m still in love with it 35 years later. It’s given me everything.”

John Blanchette is a sportswriter from Spokane, Washington. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.