Forget the Olympics: The ultimate test of determination, Divina Galica discovered last summer, might just be to drive a Hyundai Sonata RV through the narrow barriers of American highway toll lanes.
The deceptively difficult maneuver is enough to infuriate any road trip, but the Briton behind the wheel was not your average driver – she remains one of only five women to compete in Formula 1.
It’s been almost two years since the 77-year-old sold most of her physical possessions and moved into the Sebring, Fla.-Based campervan she shares with a rescued marmalade moggie called Ginger.
The dramatic downsizing inspired a recent garage sale, where trophies from Galica’s skiing career – spanning four Olympics and as many decades – were sold for $ 1 each.
“Once your sport is done, it’s done,” proclaims the former UK record holder for alpine speed skiing, who insists she is still a very sentimental person.
“I can relive the agony of 1968, when I should have won the medal, but what does that matter? Most people don’t even remember who won this race.
“It’s not good to look back. I’m not [that] kind of person. First of all, I am optimistic. I am an absolute optimist, my glass is always half full.
“And second, you must never look back. Never. It’s not worth the shot. I mean, yeah, you can remember the fun times you had, but it’s not good to say, “Oh, if only”. So what, “if only? You did, you had fun.
Galica’s position in the life mirror has been very clear, she is surprisingly willing to take the winding road of reminiscence.
If only, perhaps, for the benefit of expert Antiques Roadshow who might one day assess one of her garage sale scraps.
F1 drivers have traditionally avoided number 13, but the “horribly superstitious” Galica sees it as luck – this is the day she was born in August 1944, June 3, and Wladyslaw’s six children.
Galica was four years old when June booked a family trip to the Swiss ski resort of Lenk, a location chosen with their patriarch in mind.
Wladyslaw had, at this point, a “terribly evil heart,” and June hoped the low altitude would allow her to catch up with him.
“But in reality he was extremely ill,” recalls Galica, who lost her father to a heart attack shortly after his sixth birthday.
Yet the sport stuck.
“I had to follow my older brother as fast as possible to follow him. I think he was my first coach, ”she laughs.
But skiing was no joke. It turned into such a serious obsession that when Galica was 13, June sent her to school in Switzerland.
Miles away from Bushey Heath, she contemplated the words of Britain’s most famous bard.
“At school, I was made to read a lot of Shakespeare,” she explains.
“When Lady Macbeth said to Macbeth: ‘You would be great; / Art not without ambition, but without / Illness must accompany it.
“It has always marked me, because to be good at a sport, you have to have the illness that comes with it.
“In other words, you have to be passionate about it, you have to live and think and do whatever it takes to do what you are passionate about. That’s what drives all good sportsmen, I think.
At 15, Galica joined the Downhill Only Club in Wengen, where a trainer, assessing both her potential and her cracked “horrible” skis, handed the teenager a new pair and told her: “You are going to win. races on those. ”
Galica quickly found success in club, junior and national races, and on the Citizen Racing circuit – competitions open to athletes from non-Alpine countries. She was only 19 when, in 1964, she made her Olympic debut in Innsbruck.
In the weeks immediately preceding these ninth Olympic Winter Games, one thing had succeeded in uniting the 36 participating nations across linguistic and cultural barriers: an appalling lack of snow. None had fallen, reports The New York Times, for two months.
Austria therefore called in the army, which transported 40,000 cubic meters of material from elsewhere in the Alps.
“And then,” Galicia recalls vividly, “just as the Olympics started it started to snow and it took really badly.
“It was blinding snow on the descent as I went.
“Then there was a wind that literally lifted me up and almost pushed me back. And I ended up very low [in 30th].
“Even though I had high hopes of doing well in the Olympics, I never did. There was always something huge stopping me.
In 1968, Galica’s misfortune seemed to be reversed. In Badgastein, just 17 days after the start of the Olympic year, she stepped onto a World Cup podium for the first time.
“And there you have it, when I crossed the finish line, totally out of control, I finished third”, marvels Galicia.
“It was a big shock. They had almost already given the award to someone else, and suddenly [there’s] a Briton coming third.
She still has that trophy.
Galica tied her result in Chamonix before turning to the Grenoble Games, this time leading a five-person British women’s squad led by the fearsome Maria Goldberger, who ensured every athlete was in shape. of his life.
Galica has consistently finished in the top five in downhill practice, bolstering her medal hopes. At that time, she explained, the athletes only took one pair of skis at the start. Catastrophe struck when the sun came out.
“My trainer cold-shaved me,” she says. “These days you would never do that, you always wax warm.
“I left, I think I was about seventh from the top, and immediately knew I was a dead duck. My skis literally got stuck.
“It broke my heart. I could not believe it. It was horrible, because you worked for years to get this medal. We were so close.
“And when he saw me corner me he ran over to Felicity [Field], took off all of her wax, wrapped in hot wax and finished sixth. I always used to beat her, but she was sixth and I was 32nd and I should have had a medal.
“It was my biggest choking feeling. Just to make sure everyone knew [I was capable], I finished third in another race just after the Olympics.
Galica broke her fibula about four months before the 1972 Sapporo Games, where she struggled with lingering pain to reach top speed at some point in her descent. Then, all the way down, his leg gave way. She finished 26th.
Galica retired after Japan, where she recorded a personal Olympic seventh place in the giant slalom.
But then, she recalls, “I received an MBE from the Queen, but no training to continue my life.
“I hadn’t gone to college. I didn’t have a diploma, I just knew how to ski very well and I didn’t want to be an instructor.
“You are sort of free in the real world, but you had no orientation. ”
For example, Galica and her teammate Gina Hathorn have opened a ski clothing store on Sydney Street in London. (“I just threw away all my ski suits,” she adds anecdotally. “I put them in a dumpster.”)
In 1974, Brands Hatch boss John Webb spotted Galica, who placed second in a celebrity race.
By then, completely bored with shilling anoraks, Galica’s passion shifted to motorsport. Two years later, she was driving a Surtees F1 car and generating tons of full-time publicity in the Shellsport International Series.
“I never won a race,” she adds, “but I was just second, I had lap records, so I thought maybe I could do it.”
She lobbied for number 13, although it didn’t turn out to be particularly lucky.
Galica often found herself behind the wheel of lower drives and ended up competing in just one Grand Prix, the 1978 International Trophy at Silverstone.
It was the same year she narrowly escaped death in Argentina, her left wheels cut off by a post “like a bacon slicer” in one of two serious attempts to qualify for a GP.
By the end of the decade, Galica, who counted Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, and James Hunt among her peers and supporters, eclipsed Desire Wilson.
She found her way back to the slopes, where, while working at the French resort of Les Arcs, she was introduced to speed skiing.
“My first race was 100 miles, it blew me away,” Galica recalls. “It was amazing. It’s totally addicting. You want to go faster and faster.
And she did, breaking 125 mph – and the UK women’s record – at 48.
Two decades after leaving Sapporo, Galica was invited to demonstrate the sport at the 1992 Albertville Games. Ultimately, she said, “the [broadcasters] decided they couldn’t comment on a point descending a mountain at more than 100 miles per hour.
In 2007 Cornwall’s Caitlin Tovar celebrated her 32nd birthday by breaking Galica’s record. Two days later, she died in a hospital in Grenoble after falling from 3,000 feet in the slope of Les Arcs.
Galica considered trying to win back her title, but quickly concluded, “I can’t do this. Let her keep this file. Why do I need it, goddamn? You move on.
Furthermore, she had literally left for the United States in 1994, running sporadically while starting a new chapter as an instructor, first with the Skip Barber Racing School and then in her current position at Bertil Roos.
Galica still gets behind the wheel sometimes, and if the Briton sometimes finds the Florida heat a little too intense, the sun is not about to set on the astonishing career of the septuagenarian. In fact, a third “disease” – a passion for teaching – has spread.
If the name Galica rings a bell, the recognition is still rooted in motorsport. In most biographies, his Olympic career seems sketchy at times, like a carrot stump nose left by a melted snowman.
” I do not care. I was never for the glory of it. I was passionate about it, “she insists, adding:” I think people have very short memories, especially these days. ”
Galica ultimately emerged victorious in last summer’s toll lane battle and was undeterred.
And last week, she took Ginger to the vet to get a microchip, the first step towards the redux of the couple’s planned summer trip.
The speed limit on the state highway typically hovers around 70 mph, but these days the intrepid athlete, who once raced Andretti and cracked 125 on skis, never feels inclined to compete with a police radar gun.
“Everyone is beyond me,” she adds. “But I don’t care. I’m doing well and I’m perfectly happy.
” I do not see the interest. I am no longer in a hurry.