Jill Kinmont was living a fairy tale back in 1955. The demure blond sweetheart of tiny Bishop, Calif., had won the women’s national slalom title at 18—and with it a sure place on the U.S. Olympic ski team. Then came the sadistic Brothers Grimm twist: one bump taken wrong on a gusty day in the Alta, Utah Snow Cup Race, a bone-crushing fall—and a photo in the morning papers of Jill lying motionless in the snow, captioned by her anguished words: “My God, what have I done?”
The accident left Jill a quadriplegic, almost completely paralyzed from the shoulders down, and for the past 21 years she has lived in a wheelchair. Today, at 40, she is a successful elementary school teacher, the subject of a 1975 film (The Other Side of the Mountain), an active woman who zips around town—and, as of last month, a bride. “She’s not bad,” grins husband John Boothe, 35, of Jill, whom he calls “Hot Wheels” on his CB radio. (His handle is “Mule Skinner.”) Then, more seriously, he adds: “We have what most people dream about.”
Jill dates the unclouded days before 1955 as “B.C.”—before the crash. After a year of rehabilitation, she earned a degree at UCLA and became a teacher of remedial reading in Seattle. In 1967 she took a similar job in a Beverly Hills school—and began teaching summers on the Paiute-Shoshone Indian reservation near Bishop. Jill’s father was forced to sell his guest ranch to pay for her hospital bills, and in 1967 he died of a brain tumor. Until 1974, when an advance from the movie helped buy a new house, Jill and her mother lived in summer rentals in Bishop. In 1973 they leased a house from John Boothe, whose own place was directly behind theirs.
His job as a long-haul trucker took him away much of the time, but Jill was often on her front porch when she heard him coming home. Soon they were taking long rides, usually north through the lake country of the High Sierra. He enthralled her with stories of his pioneer ancestors who had settled the region. On one trip they visited his parents’ cattle ranch outside Bishop—and on the way home he stopped his pickup, shoved aside a sack of corn and kissed Jill for the first time. “I felt very strongly about her from the start,” says Boothe, who was divorced in 1969 after a six-year marriage. “I didn’t move fast, but when I found I wasn’t meeting much resistance, I kept pushing.”
By the end of summer “it was pretty serious,” she recalls. He sought out trucking jobs that took him to L.A., and she eventually decided to apply for a job at the Elm Street Elementary School in Bishop. Last summer a trip with John to see her married brother, Jerry, in British Columbia “cinched it,” she remembers. “We were alone for two weeks, and John had all the varied chores to do, even emptying my bag [an exterior catheter that collects her body wastes]. We still liked each other. Before that my family always took care of me. With him, I felt so…well, normal.”
Jill was worried over their five-year age difference and about leaving her mother, who is 65 (“although she was probably relieved, ‘free at last’ “). “Politically, we lean in opposite directions,” says John, who inclines right, “but we hold hands in the middle.” Jill praises her new husband: “He has an extraordinary ordinariness that is pleasing to me.” They are candid about sex. John says, “It isn’t a problem,” and Jill agrees. “I don’t have the sensations I would have had before the accident,” she says, “but it’s so much an emotional experience, caring, satisfying and relating to the person you’re with.” Though Jill is capable of having children, they won’t risk it because of her age and condition.
With Jill’s share of profits from the movie, she helped endow a “Jill Kinmont Indian Education Fund” for the children she still teaches in the summer. It provides for college and preschool scholarships and a physical education program on the reservation. A film sequel is planned. “She’s lived the life of Job,” marvels producer Ed Feldman. “It’s hard to believe she keeps coming up with these plot lines.”
Nowadays the Boothes are on the go. “I’m always ready to move on,” says Jill. To satisfy that craving, they attend football games, rodeos, picnics and dine out—Jill eats skillfully with a fork attached by a ring to her fingers.
“I always thought being married wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it,” says Jill. “Now I find it’s just plain fun.”