Keith Gabel competes at the 2018 Paralympic Games. (Photo: Mark Reis)
A lifelong connection can happen anywhere.Two-time Paralympic medalist Keith Gabel found his back in 2014 at a Dutch Bros coffee shop in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Gabel was a regular at the drive-thru while training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. It wasn’t just the coffee that drew him there.The vibe and the music made him feel at home.
That’s when he noticed Heather Short, who worked the .As much as he wanted to ask her out, he hesitated.
“Once a place becomes your coffee spot, you don’t want to ruin it by asking someone for their number,” the 37-year-old Gabel explained. “A pretty girl at a drive-thru, you know she gets hit up for her number all the time. I wasn’t going to be that guy.”
His break finally came one day when Heather asked casually, “What are you doing today?”
Keith, who often gave tours of the training center to VIP guests, told her he was giving one later that day.
“Oh, I used to do gymnastics,” Heather said. “I’d love to get a tour.”
Keith was elated at his good fortune. He gave her the took her to a barbecue later that evening.The couple dated for two years before getting engaged. They marriedin 2016, and have a two-year-old son, James.
Keith developed that same instant connection with the outdoors.Born in Salt Lake City, he moved to Oregon with his mother when he was 2 after his parents separated. At age 12, he moved back to Utah to live with his father, who gave him a pair of skis upon his arrival.
“The day he picked me up at the airport, he literally put skis on my feet,” Gabel recalled. “I learned pretty quick.”
When he was 15, Gabel tried snowboarding for the first time, and took to it almost immediately.
“It wasn’t super hard for me to learn how to link turns,” he explained. “Day one, I was linking turns, which is somewhat abnormal. But for someone who skis, it makes sense.”
Gabel’s life took a drastically different turn in June 2005, when he was involved in an industrial accident that crushed his left foot. After four blood transfusions, 26 hyperbaric treatments and a blood clot in his left lung, he decided to have the leg amputated below the knee.
Four months after the accident, he was back on his snowboard. Focusing on that goal gave him purpose during recovery.
“I’ve had a pretty awesome career in snowboarding, but I always say my greatest accomplishment is October 31, 2005, getting back on my snowboard just three months after my amputation,” he said.
Gabel found out about competitive Para snowboarding during the 2010-11 season.He competed in several international competitions before earning a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. He won the bronze medal in snowboardcross at the Paralympic Games Sochi 2014, silver in the same discipline at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, and sixth in banked slalom. At the 2019 world championships, he took gold in snowboardcross.
A self-described adrenaline junkie, Gabel enjoys hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and skiing. But he feels most at home on a snowboard.
“A great day at the mountain is better than most days anywhere else,” he explained.
At the beginning of 2021, Keith and Heather decided to open their own coffee shop. They approached the owner of a local restaurant near Aspen Valley who agreed to sublease the use of the building and kitchen during the day, since the restaurant was only open part-time. It was a perfect arrangement for the , since it cut down on their overhead.
In June, Coffee Connections — , for short — officially opened its doors. Their milk, syrups and sauces are made in-house, while cups and other materials are locally based and environmentally friendly.
“We want to put good, wholesome food and drinks in people’s bodies, and have them leave feeling good,” Keith explained. “They know we’ve given them a really good product on top of great customer service.”
Besides quality beans, what makes the perfect cup of coffee?
“It’s the person,” Heather explained. “If the barista loves their people, and they pick a roaster that loves people and the product, together they make a really good cup of coffee.”
One of Keith’s hidden talents is his ability to mimic animal sounds. The peacock is his go-to.
“It’s how people know I have arrived at the (snowboard) course,” he said. “I give a good peacock scream when I show up.”
Keith is planning for the 2022 Beijing Games and hopes to snowboard as long as possible.
“I want to continue to be that voice for the athletes, and make sure our voice is heard,” he explained. “I want to see the sport flourish long after I’m gone.”