14 for 14: Keith Gabel, snowboarding

By Keith Gabel | June 14, 2013, 9 a.m. (ET)
Keith Gabel
Keith Gabel is a snowboarding hopeful for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

From Jan. 2013 to Feb. 2014, the 14 months leading up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, "14 for 14" will profile 14 athletes who hope to make the U.S. team for the Games. Visit USParalympics.org on the 14th of each month for the latest "14 for 14".

My name is Keith Gabel. I have recently been nominated for the United States National “A” team and am a hopeful for the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in the discipline of snowboarding. I am a seven time world cup medalist and gold medalist from the 2012 Winter X-Games.

In June of 2005, due to an industrial accident, my foot was crushed by more than 2,000 pounds of hydraulic pressure for over 15 minutes. Following four blood transfusions, a blood clot in my left lung and multiple surgeries, my left foot was unsalvageable and my leg was amputated below the knee.

Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:

 Keith Gabel
When standing snowboard cross for athletes with lower limb impairments debuts at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Keith Gabel hopes to be among the competitors.

1. I am an adrenaline junky.

I am constantly pushing the limits and love the rush that you get when you accomplish something that you thought to be impossible. Whether it’s on or off the snow, I love to go fast. There is really nothing that quite compares to stuff flying past you at high speeds. I love cliff diving— yes I said diving. My motto is if there’s water down there and you can jump off then you can dive off. I love getting air and going inverted on my board. 

2. No is never an option.

As long as I can remember, if someone told me “no” or that something is impossible, I find myself trying to either see for myself why it’s impossible. The first thing I asked my doctor when we had the conversation about amputation was, “How long ‘til I can snowboard again?” Despite all odds, I was back on my board three months after my amputation.

3. I love all kinds of sports.

Whether it’s team sports or individual sports, if it gets you out there being active, I’m a fan. In high school I played football, tennis and wrestled. I love wake boarding, hiking, mountain biking, I even have a new found love for skate boarding. Not only does it get me out of my comfort zone and is great cross training for snowboard cross, but I’m constantly accomplishing new things I once thought were impossible.

4. I love music.

I love listening to it and playing it. There’s a certain freedom that you get with music that I just cannot explain. Yes I was a band geek, since I was 10 years old. I was in all kinds of band from symphonic to marching and everything in between. I mostly played woodwind instruments. However, I found my niche when I joined my high school bagpipe corps and went from beginning drummer to A drummer in the same year. And, yes I did wear a kilt.

5. My best friend has four legs.

My best friend of all time is an 8 year old chocolate lab named Sadie. I got her the day I got out of the hospital. We spent every day together for three years before any form of separation. She is a registered and certified service animal that I trained myself. Unfortunately in order to pursue my dream of becoming a Paralympic snowboarder we have had to part ways for the time being. Although I still visit her as often as possible, she now lives with my parents while I train full time.

6. I am a full-time athlete.

Because I don’t have any major corporate sponsors, and the little bit of money that I do get from sponsors goes directly towards snowboarding, it can be super tough to train, compete, pay my bills, and even have a decent meal at times. However, in order to be an Olympian or Paralympian and be the best you have to dedicate your life to it. No matter how hard it is or how much I struggle I wouldn't trade this opportunity for the world.

7. Snowboarding wouldn't have been an option without my dad.

Ironically enough, I probably wouldn't have ever started snowboarding without my father. I say ironically, because I grew up in a very narrow minded household when it came to the subject of snowboarders. Snowboarders were seen as skeezy punks who ruined the mountain. With that being said, my dad did have me at the mountain learning how to ski the day I moved to Utah and I instantly fell in love with skiing. However, to me, snowboarding looked like so much fun and I just wanted to try it. I remember having the conversation with my dad about learning to snowboard and he told me that if I wanted to continue to ski he would pay for everything but if I wanted to snowboard then I would have to pay for it myself. That’s exactly what I did. I got a used board with clicker boots and bindings and put it on layaway. I used my first two paychecks to pay for the gear and never touched my skis again except to sell them. That taught me a very important lesson “if you want it bad enough you’ll find a way to get it." In all fairness, my dad isn’t all bad. He did pay for my season passes from the age of 12-18 and that included four years of snowboarding. He is now my biggest fan. Thanks pops! Much love.

8. I am a back country rider.

Although I am a snowboard cross competitor and I have an extensive freestyle background, my heart lies in the back country. After riding for 13 years, I have spent over half in the back country. I instantly fell in love with ripping wide open pow lines, B-lining chutes, and sending cliffs. Back country riding translates very well to snowboard cross because you are constantly out of your comfort zone and pushing the limits. To me this is what separates the men from the boys.

9. I don't own a car.

I sold my car to help pay for my 2011-12 competition season. Sometimes it’s super difficult to just go see my family, or get to training, the airport, or prosthetic and other appointments. I haven't had enough money to buy a car and continue to finance my snowboarding career, so I have just accepted the fact that snowboarding comes first and I'll be without a car for a little while longer.

10. I have a new found love for traveling.

I never really cared for traveling until I started competing. Now that I do it so often, I find myself getting "the itch" if I have gone a few months without either a road trip or boarding a flight somewhere. I don’t think that it’s necessarily due to boredom, I love to see new places and I feel that I have a huge sense of adventure. To me, you never know what you’re going to get and every trip is just that, an adventure.

11. I love tattoos.

Let me just start by saying I love tattoos. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe it’s because like music, you can express yourself through art. Maybe it’s because unlike a painting, you can take your art everywhere. I think the biggest reason, is that if you put something on your body that will be there permanently, it must mean a lot to you. Although I have many tattoos that have great meaning to me, consisting of an almost complete sleeve of Japanese art on my right arm, the Latin words "Carpe Diem" down the back of my left arm, my fire and ice sun on my back, the tattoo that is my favorite and has the most meaning to me is a band that wraps around my right leg. It is a band of stitches that looks somewhat like my leg has been cut off and sewn back on. Ironically, I actually got this tattoo a few years before I lost my other leg. My amputation is about an inch lower than the placement of the tattoo but on my left leg. The meaning of this tattoo is that, it doesn't matter what happens to me, you could cut my leg off and I’ll still bounce back. I guess the universe wanted me to put my money where my mouth was.

12. Sometimes it’s good to get away from sports.

I love snowboarding with every ounce of my soul. It was my passion long before it was ever my profession. With that being said, I truly believe that it is good to take a break every once and a while so that you can approach your sport with a clear head and a fresh outlook. My other hobbies are a good change of pace. I love fishing. Nothing clears my head quite as well as fishing. I love to take my dog on walks and just play fetch with her. Sometimes I’ll just hang out at the house with my girlfriend and not do anything. Other times we will go to the lake and swim or just hang out by the river. I find that going to the movies with my lady is another great way to clear the mind. 

13. I love to help people.

Whether it is teaching someone to snowboard for the first time or simply teaching them a new trick, I love to share my passion with people. However, I don’t necessarily limit my passion to snowboarding; anytime I hear of a new amputee or just someone in need of some words of encouragement, I make it a point to get in contact with them. Whether it’s on the phone or in person, there’s nothing like meeting and talking to someone who can actually relate to what you’re going through. I know how hard it was for me to go through my accident with no one to talk to that had actually been there, so I have made it a personal mission of mine to help anyone in need.

14. I love food.

There’s no way around it, I love to eat. Food plays a big role in my life, as my dad’s side of the family is very large, we always gather over some kind of meal. Being an athlete I have changed my diet dramatically to coincide with my healthy lifestyle. However, my favorite food of all time is pizza and ice cream. When I do splurge, that is what I go for.