It is said that we are shaped by our experiences, and the life of Olympian Keith Gabel is a true testament that positive thinking will take your dreams to places unimaginable. Overcoming major setbacks in his childhood and a horrific tragedy at the age of 20, this Olympian has shown the power of positivity on the path to his second Olympic participation in PyeongChang, South Korea.
As a child, being an Olympic athlete was not even on the radar. Today, Keith is an Ambassador of the United States Team for Tomorrow. He is also a humanitarian helping others with debilitating illness or injuries. A true inspiration, overcoming all adversity it is Keith’s ability to get through troubled times and set goals to make his dreams come true. He is looking forward to competing in this year’s Olympics at PyeongChang. Here we speak to Keith on life, snowboarding and living the dream in Aspen Snowmass.
How has your approach changed heading into this year’s Paralympic games vs. 2014? The major difference from 2014 to now is the mental aspect of the sport. As I made my way to the gate, and heard the roar of the crowd from the previous riders competing, I instantly started to tremble. Thank goodness for my allstar support system in 2014. Travis McClain brought me immediately back to where I needed to be and focus on the fact that I could do it and knock off the shakes. When competing at this high of a level, you can prepare for conditions and you can train physically, but the mental strength is the glue that keeps it all together. It is a major tool in the toolbox, and one that must be sharpened in order to operate at full capacity. I now meditate 4 times a day to find the balance I will need heading into the games. As an adrenaline junkie, it is of upmost importance to ground yourself and stay calm, especially before getting out there and competing for gold.
Do you have a word or mantra you say to yourself when you are competing? The power of positivity will always preserve. Finding that silver lining in everything is a mantra I live by.
How has technology changed over the years and what impact has it had on your ability to push yourself even harder and become a better athlete? Technology in snowboards has remained at a high level and consistent throughout the years in regard to materials. It is the technology in the prosthetics that has changed by leaps and bounds. I use BioDapt's Versa Foot, a prosthetic that has been a game changer in the sport. In the past my prosthetic was stiff carbon fiber mounted to my leg and had no flexibility. Now with the Versa Foot, it’s built out of a strong metal composite and has a fox shock in it which allows ankle flexion with. This creates a natural stance when strapped to the snowboard. Friend and fellow athlete Mike Schultz has been instrumental in the development of prosthetics for action sports and added the Versa Foot to the collection in 2013. I am lucky that Biodapt is a sponsor of mine and I could not be more grateful for the invention of the Versa Foot.
Do you remember the song you were listening to when you won the bronze metal at Sochi? When competing and on the road, I am constantly putting together playlists. I remember my “Shred Playlist 14” being on shuffle, and Martin Garixx “Animals” came on. Very cluby, but it got the job done. If you were living it up in 2014, you would know the track.
How has sponsorship played a role in where you are today? Being a Paralympic athlete, it really is a niche market when it comes to sponsorship. I am lucky to have Biodapt sponsor me. Without my Versa Foot, I would not be where I am today as an athlete. I am also sponsored by Aspen Skiing Company. It is an honor to ride with fellow athletes in the Roaring Fork Valley who believe in the Aspen Way. With all that being said, we still have to make a living and we are full-time athletes. Having the support of a few other companies like Nike, Sherry B Dessert Studio and The Hartford has helped make ends meet. It is a challenge and I am always looking for Companies and entities at all levels to partner with, My aim is to represent them (the brand) whole heartedly.
What brought you to Aspen Snowmass? Aspen Valley Ski Club was the main reason I came up here. I credit much of where I am today to the guru of physical and mental training Miah Wheeler. In 2014 he was the head coach of the Paralympic team. He is a big on building mental strength. Miah is an incredible man, ahead of his time. He is considered a mentor and a friend. AVSC and Aspen Skiing Company got me here. Living the good life and the amazing opportunities that I have gained along with the just the overall quality of life here is the reason me and my beautiful wife now call it home.
What made you pick up snowboarding vs another snow sport? I started skiing the day I came to live with my dad it Utah. At the time the technology in snowboarding seemed to beleaps and bounds above skiing. It quenched my adrenaline thirst. My father refused to pay for a snowboard, so I got myself a job. After my second paycheck I bought myself a snowboard and have never been back two planking it.
How important is sport in a young adult’s life who may be facing adversity? Sport is extremely important in all lives. We all face adversity. Who is it to say that my story & life is so much more difficult than his or hers or even yours. It is what we do when we are put in those situations which dictates who we are as human beings. Sports allow for people to have a level of freedom while setting and achieving goals
How impactful has it been in your own life? I had a hard childhood and then I lost my leg below the knee. But that is what makes me who I am today. I am a better snowboarder without my leg. I set lofty goals, work hard and keep a positive attitude. When it comes down to it, I can’t take the easy way out. Life can be difficult, but I always see just one option in life.
What has snowboarding taught you? Snowboarding is my passion, my church. What else could you be doing at 10,000 feet surrounded by majestic peaks and be so close with ones God? Whatever background we come from, when we are on the slopes making turns, with the wind in our face breathing the mountain air, we are all equal and seeking the freedom that the mountain slopes bring. How lucky are we?
To learn more about Keith and his journey to the 2018 Paralympics, follow him on instagram @GrizzlyGabel and facebook @Keith.Gabel
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