The Heart to Keep Skiing

A former Olympic skier, George Macomber and his wife, Ann (Andy), have helicoptered to the top of mountains in the Canadian Rockies and skied down their vertical slopes. Both have heart conditions and have entered their ninth decade of life, yet they hike and ski regularly every winter. They once skied in Switzerland just four months after George had a stroke.

Andy and George Macomber enjoy pushing themselves physically and skiing despite their cardiac performance problems but they want to do it safely.
Andy and George Macomber enjoy pushing themselves physically but want to do it safely.

The Macombers believe in pushing themselves physically but they want to do it safely. They have committed $1 million to establish the Macomber Family Endowed Scholar for Cardiovascular Performance Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital. Adolph Hutter, MD, longtime cardiologist to both Macombers and a leading expert in sports cardiology, was named the first incumbent.

“Their generous contribution is extremely important in allowing me to continue my work in cardiac performance research, and I am very appreciative,” says Dr. Hutter, who co-founded and directs Mass General’s Cardiovascular Performance Program. The program is the first in the country to combine extensive, innovative research with cardiac care for competitive athletes as well as for people like the Macombers, who want to preserve their active lifestyles as they grow older.

He serves as team cardiologist for Boston’s professional football, hockey and soccer teams and has spent the last 40 years evaluating athletes for risk of sudden death. The Cardiac Performance Program is only four years old, but its team — which includes Aaron Baggish, MD, co-director of the program with Dr. Hutter, and Gregory Lewis, MD — has already published 50 research papers.

“We are learning a tremendous amount about how the heart reacts physiologically to different types of exercises, in well-trained athletes as well as individuals leading active lifestyles, whether or not they have heart disease,” Dr. Hutter explains.

Skiing and its nationwide community provide the social glue that binds the Macombers, their three children and eight grandchildren. George Macomber was on U.S. Olympic Ski Teams, in 1948 and 1952. He also was a U.S. National Ski Champion in 1949 and is a member of the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame.

No Choice But to Ski

“Growing up, the kids had no choice, they had to ski. We never gave them skates,” jokes Andy, who is herself an adventurous skier. The family spent winters at Wildcat Mountain, a ski area in Jackson, N.H., that was developed by George and three partners more than 60 years ago. All three of their children — John, Gay and Jory — were captains of the Dartmouth Ski Team in their senior years. John was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1974 to 1976. Now their granddaughter Elena Bird is a nationally ranked skier. She has taken an interest in Mass General’s Cardiac Performance Program, too, and is writing her senior high school thesis on athletes and how far they should push themselves.

George and Andy met just as he was about to head to St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the 1948 Olympics. He was a student at MIT and she was at Smith College, where George’s sister was her advisor. “She advised her brother to meet me,” Andy says.

His sister brought Andy up to their family place in New Hampshire, a gentleman’s farm. “She was driving the tractor and picking corn before she left,” George says. “Andy’s game. I knew that when I met her.”

George and Andy like the adventure of trying new things and pushing the envelope, he says. In their 60s, they took a helicopter to the top of a mountain and skied down. They found the experience so thrilling that they did it again a few years later.

Pride in a Scholar Endowment

Skiing is the family sport and construction is the family business. Four generations of Macomber men ran the George B.H. Macomber Company. The company renovated important Boston landmarks such as the Faneuil Hall Marketplace buildings, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and, at Mass General, a historical house where physicians in training used to live. His company also built new Boston attractions — the Four Seasons Hotel and New England Aquarium’s IMAX theatre.

The couple loves to travel. In a card presented to George in 2007, his family listed everywhere he’d been in his 80 years. His list included more than 60 countries covering every continent except Antarctica, as well as 47 U.S. states. “We were even in Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which was heart-stopping,” Andy adds.

The Macombers have been longtime generous contributors to Mass General. They also support the MGH Fund, which provides the hospital with flexible funding to use wherever it is needed most. They are particularly excited to support “Dolph’s” research. He has become a dear friend.

George says his proudest achievements are his three children. But he is proud of making two Olympic teams and now of this scholar endowment. Not many others can make it to one, let alone two Olympic teams. But, says George, “I want others to see that they can contribute something like this scholar endowment, too.”

To learn more about how you can support the MGH Cardiac Performance Program contact us or call (617) 726-1392.