WHITEFISH — Standing in front of the O’Shaughnessy Center on Wednesday afternoon and addressing a crowd of supporters, many clutching “Hooray Maggie” signs, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld officially proclaimed March 7, 2018 “Maggie Voisin Day.”
Minutes later, Whitefish Winter Carnival King Ullr LIX Paul Johanssen unsheathed his sword, lowered it to Voisin’s head and knighted her.
But the gestures were mere formalities. Voisin’s community had long ago knighted the two-time Olympian as a hometown hero, and the parade through downtown Whitefish that preceded the proclamations made clear that it was already Maggie Voisin Day well before the mayor certified it.
The March 7 celebration of Voisin, 19, served as both a welcome home from the Winter Games in South Korea, where she finished fourth in women’s slopestyle skiing last month, and as a reminder of the community support she has received up until now and will continue reaping into the future, as she acknowledged when she stepped up to the microphone.
“For me, I realize medals mean a lot, but it’s all about the sacrifices you make to get there, and thank you all for being a huge part of all the sacrifices,” Voisin told the assembled crowd, which included numerous children there to catch a glimpse of the Olympian and secure an autograph.
“The support through these past few years, it really means a lot,” she continued. “We come from such a special place, and from my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The event, organized by Brian Schott and Dylan Boyle of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, featured Voisin and her family riding atop a fire truck through downtown Whitefish, an all-Voisin parade. Supporters lined the streets and cheered from second-story businesses as Voisin waved.
Six-year-old Blake Ruta ran up to her mother, Erica, to show off her poster autographed by Voisin. Blake, who also had her photo taken with Voisin, had been skiing earlier in the day, preparing for an upcoming outing on the slopes with the Olympian. The Rutas won a half-day of skiing with Voisin at a Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation auction.
“She went over all the jumps that she could,” Erica said of Blake, the oldest of three girls. “She wanted to impress Maggie.”
Erica said Voisin is an inspiration to her three daughters, motivating them to hit the slopes, eat better and dream big. After all, Voisin was once a young girl learning to ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort, just like the three Ruta siblings.
“I almost cried a couple times just thinking of these guys in 10 years,” Erica said. “Blake is 6, and we have all these girls skiing already. Just to think that they could do that someday.”
Tyler and Fabienne Nitopi brought their 2-year-old son Canyon and newborn Rome to see Voisin up close. Canyon, almost 3, already has two seasons on the mountain under his belt. Tyler and Fabienne were proud to have an Olympian from their community serving as a role model for their children.
“I grew up with a poster of the Mahre brothers (the U.S. sibling alpine ski racers who won gold and silver at the 1984 Winter Olympics),” Tyler said, “and they weren’t even from my hometown, they were just Americans. So for him to have an Olympian from his hometown is pretty cool.”
Voisin’s fourth-place finish in PyeongChang, so close to a bronze medal, came four years after she earned her first trip to the Olympics as a 15-year-old and the youngest American Winter Olympian since 1972. But the Sochi appearance ended before it officially started, as Voisin suffered a heartbreaking ankle fracture during a training run.
Voisin fought back from the injury only to tear her ACL in her return to competition. That injury sidelined her for nine months. Once again, the determined Whitefish native worked diligently to not only get back on skis but be even better.
And, indeed, Voisin lived up to her own self-imposed challenge, no small feat for somebody who was already firmly among the best women slopestyle skiers in the world.
In the year leading up to 2018 Winter Olympics, Voisin won her first World Cup competition, a February 2017 Olympic qualifier at California’s Mammoth Mountain, and in January of this year became the first American woman to ever earn the gold medal in slopestyle skiing at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado.
In PyeongChang, after narrowly making the finals, Voisin put together a spectacular last run that launched her into medal position. She could only watch, however, as Great Britain’s Isabel Atkin put together a run that nudged Voisin out of the bronze and into fourth place, an agonizingly close near-miss that was a monumental achievement all the same.
“Maggie Voisin is number one in our hearts in this community,” Mayor Muhlfeld said in his March 7 proclamation, “and has carried the spirit of winter sports from Whitefish across the globe as an inspiration to our town, returning to her hometown today as a shining ambassador.”