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Original Issue

Debbie Armstrong, Skier FEBRUARY 20, 1984

Four days of heavy snowfall had become six feet of frosted
quicksand on Mount Jahorina, forcing Yugoslav organizers to call
in the army to ready the women's giant slalom run for the 1984
Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Within hours the slope was dotted
with soldiers marching on skis to stomp flat the snowdrifts. The
tactic worked, and the next morning the course, a stunning
Alpine route curving through towering firs, was ready when a
red-cheeked, previously anonymous American named Debbie
Armstrong came to the starting gate chanting her mantra, "Have
fun! Have fun!" Armstrong hurtled through two runs to bring the
U.S. its first gold medal in the event since '52. Earlier,
standing with her teammates during the opening ceremonies, she
had marveled at the host city's hospitality and what she
remembers as the "rainbow of color" among the surging, dancing
Croats, Muslims and Serbs.

Within a decade, land near the stadium where Armstrong stood had
become a graveyard, the seats of Olympic venues had been used to
make coffins, and the army had long since stopped employing skis
as its primary weapon. More than three years of ethnic warfare
ravaged Sarajevo to the point that almost all the city's trees
were gone, burned in the attacks or uprooted to provide fuel for
the besieged citizenry. After the aboveground timber was gone,
Sarajevans had sprinted out between volleys of sniper fire to dig
up the stumps, leaving only the lifeless brown of turned soil on
the surrounding hills.

Now, with Armstrong's help, the city is literally showing new
life. As a spokesperson for Global ReLeaf Sarajevo, Armstrong is
drumming up support for a campaign to plant 300,000 trees in and
around the pockmarked city. Coordinated by the White House
Millennium Council, American Forests (a nonprofit conservation
group) and the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee, Global ReLeaf
hopes to restore Sarajevo's urban forest and stabilize its barren
hills, which have fallen prey to landslides. The 37-year-old
Armstrong, who quit racing in 1988 and has since earned her B.A.
in history from New Mexico, says, "One of the happiest days of my
life was in Sarajevo, in that stadium. It may sound corny, but to
have the opportunity to give something back is very special."

Armstrong, who's single and works as a ski ambassador for Taos
(N.Mex.) Ski Valley, hopes to return to Sarajevo soon to
personally aid in the effort. She proudly points out that 20,000
of the seedlings have already been planted, the first step in
restoring at least one color to the city's rainbow.

--Chris Ballard



Armstrong is campaigning to have 300,000 trees planted in
war-ravaged Sarajevo.