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Former Chicago Athletes: Where Are They Now?

What do star athletes do after their playing days are over? We tracked down a onetime Bears cornerback who’s now a practicing dentist and a missionary; a former Blackhawks star who copilots jetliners; an ex-Cub who became a jazz trumpeter; and more

(page 11 of 17)

« CARMEN FANZONE ANDREA JAEGER »

ERIC NESTERENKO

THEN Forward, Chicago Blackhawks (1956–72)
NOW Ski instructor

Eric Nesterenko was a stalwart defenseman for the Blackhawks for 16 seasons, earning two All-Star berths and helping the team win the 1961 Stanley Cup. Yet it’s been so long since he suited up that he finds it almost hard to believe he used to play. “It’s so far removed from my life,” he says from his home in West Vail, Colorado. “People know me very much as a skier now.” And that’s fine with him. “If you’re an ex–professional athlete, people are always asking about this game and that game, and you have a bit of a celebrity tinge,” he says. “I don’t find the role that interesting.”

After hanging up his Blackhawks skates at 38, Nesterenko spent a season coaching semi­professional hockey in Lausanne, Switzerland. While there, he and his family took up skiing, and he fell in love with its beauty, speed, and freedom. Over the next five years, he tried his hand at other pursuits, including teaching, but he couldn’t shake the skiing bug. Finally, in 1979, he left Chicago for Colorado. “I wanted to do something new and different,” he says. “I basically became a ski bum.”

First he worked ski patrol. After a few years, he started giving lessons. He spent 30 years as a full-time instructor, cutting back to part time recently. At 77, he admits, his body is slowing down. After knee-replacement surgery three years ago, he gave up ice-skating. Still, he remains vigorous. “If we don’t move, we die,” he says. In winter, he skis every day. “The mountain is my gymnasium,” he says. “And I say this not as a braggart but as a categorical statement: I can ski most men half my age into the ground.”

Perfection for him is a powder day. “Here I am in my late 70s,” he says. “I wake up and see it’s snowing in the morning, and I am genuinely excited. I am genuinely thrilled. How many guys my age are thrilled?”

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