HELENA – Former Montana Governor Judy Martz is well known for being Montana’s first female governor, but the Butte native also had a brief stint in the Winter Olympics.
In 1964, Martz traveled to Innsbruck, Austria, competing in the women’s 1500 meter speed skating category.
Ellen Baumler, the interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society in Helena, said Martz took up skating by chance after watching her colleague Sylvia White.
“I don’t think she ever thought about competing until she happened to watch Sylvia… Sylvia asked if she would run a race with her, so the two of them raced and Judy actually won by about two yards, which was a very narrow margin and she got the bug,” Baumler said.
According to Martz’s former boards and commissions adviser Susan Ames, Martz’s coach unintentionally distracted Martz during the race and she lost her focus causing her to spin out on the track.
“She slid on the ice and couldn’t really regain her position again,” Baumler said.
Martz did get back up from her fall and was able to garner a 15th place in the race.
Regardless of their rankings, Martz and White achieved something no one else before they had. They were the first women from Montana to compete on the Olympic stage. While that single event was the entirety of Martz’s Olympic career, Ames would later attest that Martz retained the spirit of an Olympian.
“There was never anything she would back down from. She loved a challenge,” Ames said.
While she didn’t come home with a gold medal, Baumler said the memories were something Martz never forgot.
“She did have a golden experience and she always kept that locked away in her heart,” Baumler said.
That love for skating appeared to stick with her well after the 1964 Olympics. David Silk, president of the High Altitude Skating Oval in Butte, knew Judy well and said she was involved with the Oval early on.
“She did a lot for the oval. I hope to put in an area dedicated just to her. I’d like to get some skating photos, even some skating attire and kind of make a presentation for Judy because she was tied to the Oval,” Silk said.
Judy also blazed her own trail later in life, becoming Miss Rodeo Montana in 1962, the first female lieutenant governor of Montana in 1997 and the first female governor in 2001.
“She will be remembered as a very special person,” Ames said.