Keith Gabel: U.S. Paralympian, Snowboarding

Team USA Paralympians: Road to Beijing

U.S. Paralympic snowboarder Keith Gabel was involved in an industrial accident, resulting in the amputation of his left leg. Several months later, he began training, leading him to a bronze and a silver medal in the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014 and 2018, respectively. Gabel reflects on his journey to compete in 2022 as part of Team USA.

Posted on:

Jan 30, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The Paralympic movement has grown in size and scale, and its impact on society is increasing, transforming attitudes and breaking down social barriers. Paralympic snowboarder Keith Gable is a prime example. Keith was introduced to snowboarding in 2000 and quickly developed a love for the sport. In 2005, he lost his left foot following an industrial accident. Several months later, he made the decision to return to his snowboard. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Keith eventually discovered competitive para snowboarding, competing and medaling in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018. Keith joins me today to share his story in his path to 2022, the Beijing Paralympic Games. Keith, thanks so much for being here.

Gabel: Hey, Tetiana. Thank you so much for having me. Super-stoked to be here with you today.

Anderson: So, give us just a little bit of your background. I mean, why did you start snowboarding? And how serious were you about the sport before the accident?

Gabel: Well, when I started snowboarding, I transitioned from skiing, and it was just something that was really fun to do. It was something a little different, and I instantly fell in love with it. I wasn't a serious athlete at that time, at least in snowboarding. It was just an outlet. It was something that I became very passionate about and enjoyed.

Anderson: And what about the accident? What happened exactly?

Gabel: Well, in 2005, as you stated, I was involved in an industrial accident, I had over 2,000 pounds worth of hydraulic pressure crush my foot for over 15 minutes. Following four blood transfusions, three of which I completely bled out and had to have full-on defib resuscitation, CPR, that sort of thing, I ended up losing circulation to my foot and having to have my leg amputated just below the knee. There was about 200 breaks and fractures in that area, my foot, that is, and complications with everything just kind of led to amputation.

Anderson: That obviously is traumatic, but what's amazing is, you didn't let that keep you from your passion of snowboarding. What did the sport mean for your recovery? And how much was that a motivator for you to get better?

Gabel: Well, snowboarding has always kind of been my church. I always say, "Where are you going to get closer to God than 10,000 to 12,000 feet up in the mountains, on snow, becoming one with the mountains?" And so that was the first thing I asked the doctors when we were trying to figure out whether or not we were gonna try limb salvage further or just move on to amputation was, "How long till I can snowboard?" And after a quick back-and-forth, it sounded like I could be on snow within just a few months with the right technology underneath me. So I said, "Let's go ahead and amputate." And that's what I held on to. That's what got me off the pain meds. That's what helped me recover. No physical therapy or rehab. I taught myself how to walk, and a couple weeks after teaching myself how to walk, I went snowboarding and I once again finally felt free. You know, finally, I was able to put that behind me a little bit.

Anderson: It's absolutely incredible. And it leads me to the world of Paralympic competition, because that's something that also changed your world, when you discovered what that was in about 2010 or 2011, I believe. How important do you think the world of para-games are to athletes who are living with a disability, whether at the local level, the regional level, or the Paralympic level?

Gabel: I think regardless of what level they're at, they have something to look forward to each day. For a lot of us, it gives us a reason to get out of bed. It helps you get over those depression humps. It allows you to set goals and strive for those goals. And regardless, again, of what level you're at, whether it's regional, national, Paralympic, it doesn't really matter. If you're just out there having fun, that's really all that matters. It gives you a chance to remove yourself from your current situation. It allows you to set goals, reach those goals, build confidence, and just live a normal life, even if it's just for a few hours.

Anderson: I know one of your major goals early on was to compete at the Paralympic Winter Games, and you did that. You got a bronze in Sochi in 2014, a silver medal in South Korea in 2018. And you're continuing to compete. What have you learned along the way about dreaming big, achieving big? And what advice do you have for other people about going after their dreams, whatever they are?

Gabel: Yeah, I'm not getting any younger, but I do want to complete the set. I've got the bronze, I've got the silver, and it's time to try to get that gold again. I think, you know, it's something that was told to me a long time ago is, if you're going to go big, don't think small. The other thing I would say is, you know, enjoy that process, allow for the failures to help motivate you and shape you. Your character is going to come out. And you're not always going to succeed, but keep going, keep going, and enjoy the process along the way and enjoy it and learn from it. Become a champion that way.

Anderson: "Don't think small." Those are words to live by. Keith Gable, thank you so much for joining us.

Gabel: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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