Natalie Leduc. Champion skier is what many know about this outstanding athlete who only last year at age 77 finally stopped racing.
However, for a number of local residents, she is far more than that. She is, to them, a champion humanitarian with a big heart. This third-generation Saranac Lake native has enjoyed a string of successes, interwoven with more than her share of tragedy. Perhaps because of this, she is a deeply compassionate woman who has devoted years to sharing her talents and time to help other individuals and organizations.
Asked, for instance, to show her many ribbons and awards won for excellence in downhill and slalom ski races, she replies, "Oh, I've given all those away to the neighborhood kids."
(Photo —Capterton Tissot)
She is fondly remembered by the many Saranac Lake school children who learned to ski under her tutelage when she was the certified ski instructor at Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake.
Through the years, she has volunteered for a number of organizations, such as Adirondacks High Peaks Hospice, Guggenheim Camp, Mt. Pisgah, the Girl Scouts and numerous other programs. She has served on a variety of boards including the Saranac Lake Free Library, Friends of Mt. Pisgah, Pine Ridge Cemetery, Judith G. Women's Shelter and the Lake Placid Winter Olympics Museum, and this is but a partial list.
Natalie's sensitivity can be traced back to childhood. One of her most vivid recollections was of sitting on the wall in front of her home, watching the Saranac Lake boys march off to World War II. Though just age 11, she was more deeply aware of the sadness of it all more than of the glory. She and her friends wrote many letters to the soldiers, and by telling them of village news, tried to bolster their spirits.
Recalling a youth full of fun and adventure, Natalie tells of the time her mother bought two baby alligators. Natalie and her brother were delighted and made harnesses with yarn leashes to take their new pets for walks and swims.
Other recollections include sneak-drinks at the age of 10, followed by punishing sickness; the thrill of working for 10 cents an hour as a 14-year-old (fully dressed) life model for art students at the Saranac Lake Guild; and sneaking out wearing "forbidden" lipstick at age 15.
Her childhood was filled with sports but by far, she said, her favorites were skating and skiing. Perhaps she was influenced by her neighbors, internationally famous racing skaters Ed Lamy and Ed Horton, or perhaps it was the proximity of the Pontiac Bay skating arena across the street that led Natalie, at age 10, to become a serious figure skater, traveling and participating in shows at various area army camps.
By age 15, however, her focus shifted toward skiing. Her mother had been a skier, and had carried a one-year old Natalie tucked in a pack basket on her back. The very next season, at 2 1/2 years old, Natalie was up on her own little skis. She acquired expertise by climbing her small backyard hill and skiing down again, over and over. In time, she began to climb ever steeper mountains to enjoy shushing their more challenging slopes.
Starting in high school and throughout her adult life, she raced and accumulated numerous awards. She was a designated Class A racer; the 1948 state Woman's Ski Champion, a founding member of the International Skiing History Association, director of the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and professional ski instructor at the American Professional Ski Instructors Association.
Her father supported the family with his garage business. When Natalie was 18 and attending St. Lawrence University on a ski scholarship, her father, then 44, and Dr. Haskins drowned when their car went through the ice on Lower Saranac Lake. The accident left the family emotionally devastated and in financial hardship. Immediately following graduation, Natalie returned home to help her mother cope and to teach at the Saranac Lake High School. Following that, she taught physical education for many years at Paul Smith's College. There, she met and married her first husband. They had five children. Tragically, one died in infancy. They divorced after a 15-year marriage.
Later, on the slopes, Natalie met her second husband, Lucien Leduc. He was an avid skier and one-time Catholic priest who, on retiring from the order, became a successful doctor of psychology. They married when her children were still teenagers and spent 20 glorious years together working at their jobs, traveling and skiing the world over.
Hard times struck again when, in 1989, at age 58, Lucien was diagnosed with cancer, dying just six weeks later. For weeks, Natalie went daily to Pine Ridge Cemetery to rake and care for his grave, an activity that she said helped her survive the grief.
But Natalie is not about sadness. Eventually, she was able to once again embrace life with enthusiasm and humor. She moved into a small home on Lake Street, remaining there until just 10 years ago when she bought her present home on Mt. Pisgah, where she now lives with her long-time friend Cy Murphy, who is retired from the wholesale electric supply business.
In addition to teaching, her past jobs have included founding Tandell Office Supply and 16 years as a real estate agent at Rob Grant and Associates.
Though suffering adverse effects of rheumatoid arthritis, Natalie keeps right on enjoying life and sharing that joy with others. In her typical kind fashion, she recently invited complete strangers to use her yard for their wedding so they could have the spectacular view as a backdrop.
Natalie keeps in constant touch with her many treasured friends and devotes much time to family and her special dog, Joli-Coeur. What philosophy does this most generous citizen live by? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," she says.
It should come as no surprise to hear that on Oct. 10 of this year, Natalie was inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame and that next month she will receive the Girl Scouts Community Woman of Distinction award.
Based on an interview with Natalie Leduc.
Caperton Tissot can be reached at Tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.