In 1987, Tori Robinson – then Pillinger – was a rising star on the U.S. Ski Team bred out of Park City, Utah. She was the U.S. national super-G champion and working her way up the ranks of the World Cup. Then in an unfortunate turn of events, she crashed into an unpadded finish area pole while racing in a World Cup super-G in Luekerbad, Switzerland.
The injuries were devastating: a broken right femur, left tibia, and pelvic bone as well as knee and vertebrae damage. Years after the crash, she told the Scripps Howard News Service, “If I had hit lower, in the knee or the shin, it could have taken out everything. If I had hit higher, say perhaps in the abdomen, I would have been dead. I would have been sheared right off at the waist.” Her crash changed the way World Cup finish areas are set up now – with an inflatable finish banner held up by wires instead of poles.
At the time of the crash, the U.S. Ski Team athlete was ranked 19th in the world in super-G and 22nd in downhill. She was just weeks away from her 21st birthday. An accident like that could have shattered the spirit of your average Jane, but that wasn’t Robinson. She worked for years through surgeries, rehabilitation, and return-to-snow training to make it back into gates with the U.S. Ski Team.
Former Director of the Park City Ski Team Bob Marsh describes her as tenacious, but also as a gracious winner and loser, in a KPCW Radio piece.
Robinson never made a full comeback after being inhibited by back spasms, which were reportedly unrelated to her crash, and she decided to retire from the sport in 1989 at the age of 23. Leaving her racing career in the rearview mirror, Robinson built a career as an emergency room nurse and pursued new passions like becoming a second-degree black belt and martial arts instructor as well as a whitewater rafting guide.
Marsh continues to say in the KPCW interview, “Maybe Tori didn’t win an Olympic medal, but she won all the World Cups along the way from getting a great education to being a great mom, being a great wife and fighting the way she did. So, if there’s one word that I think describes Tori it was, she was just a fighter ’til the very end.”
She married and gave birth to two daughters. She homeschooled (“roadschooled” as she referred to it) them in order to take them on adventures. She wrote on her blog that it allowed them to “visit places of historical interest and meet the descendants of our textbooks who tend to tell a better story.” They traveled as a family to places like Bora Bora, Tahiti, Spain, and Morocco. Friend and fellow national team member Edie Thys Morgan remembers her smile, kindness, bravery, and insatiable appetite for adventure and most of all, her relentless insistence to make the most out of every day.
In April 2011, Robinson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy and other treatments to eradicate it. Three years later, she was inducted into the Park City Ski Team Hall of Fame. After several years in remission, her cancer returned in Aug. 2016. Robinson died in late August 2017 at 50 years old, leaving behind a legacy of adventure and passion for living.
Robinson lives on through the Live Like Tori Foundation, which encourages people to live life to the fullest and raises money for women fighting metastatic breast cancer. T-shirts and sweatshirts are being sold as a fundraiser and are for sale here. We invite former teammates and anyone close to her to share their fondest memories of Tori Robinson in the comments section below.