Athlete Stories – Keith Gabel

Keith's Willpower Made Him Defy All Expectations

When Keith Gabel discovered snowboarding at the age of 15, it was love at first descent. He was thrilled by the height of the mountains, the speed and daring of the downhill plunge – even the wipeouts that came with learning and perfecting the sport. He dreamed of becoming a professional snowboarder one day.

But five years later, Keith was in an industrial accident that crushed his left foot and almost crushed his dreams. The doctors did everything they could, but after two weeks of hospitalization, four blood transfusions and 26 hyperbaric treatments, Keith’s foot was dying. Doctors gave Keith a choice: multiple reconstructive surgeries with no assurance of success or amputation.

“It took me all of 12 minutes to decide,” Keith said. “What if we chop this thing off now?” he said to his doctor. Then, almost in the same breath, “How long before I can snowboard?”

The doctor’s estimate was three years, but three months later, Keith was back on the slopes learning to snowboard with a prosthetic foot, defying all expectations except his own.

Keith’s grit and determination have allowed him to reach heights neither he nor his doctors thought possible. But the journey of recovery had its ups and downs.

“One minute, you’re saying to yourself, I can do this – and you set goals and you reach them,” Keith said. “Then you have a setback, maybe a sore, and it takes everything you’ve got to go through that deep dark place. But you go through it, set things aside and don’t listen to the no’s. You keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward.”

Keeping his eye on the prize is exactly what Keith did. He quickly regained proficiency on the snowboard and began to compete six years later. He rose through the international ranks and won the bronze medal at the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. He’ll be competing for Team USA in snowboard cross and banked slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

Today, Keith says he wouldn’t take back his amputated foot for the world.

“I’m a much better snowboarder than I was before I lost my leg,” he said, “and it’s opened up opportunities. I get to see the world and do what I love for a living – while mentoring other people who have gone through some life-altering injury. I also would never have met my wife. The quality of my life is better now in all respects.”

Keith’s wife is a kindred spirit and athlete whom he met after moving to Aspen, Colorado for full-time training. The couple just celebrated their one-year anniversary.

When he’s not in training or on the slopes, Keith is a motivational speaker who shares his story and the Paralympic spirit on behalf of the United States Olympic Committee. He also coaches sports for wounded military men and women through the Semper Fi Fund, and volunteers at The Hartford Ski Spectacular, a winter sports festival for people with disabilities held annually in Breckinridge, Colorado.

“I put people on a snowboard for the first time,” Keith said, speaking of his involvement with The Hartford Ski Spectacular. “I’ve been there for five or six years now.”

Today, The Hartford proudly sponsors Keith in his journey to the Paralympic Winter Games.

“I am extremely honored to be chosen,” Keith said. “As a founding partner of U.S. Paralympics, The Hartford has a sort of prestige. If you’re a Hartford athlete, everyone’s asking how you got that. I couldn’t be more thankful for their support.”

Keith knows he wouldn’t be competing in the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 without the monetary and moral support of his sponsors, coach, family and friends. But it is the strength of his will, positive mindset and love of the sport that have given him the power to prevail.

“Being outside in the wilderness is home to me,” Keith said. “It’s my church. I get closer to God at 12,000 feet. Anything could be going on in my life, but none of that matters when I’m up at the top of a mountain.”
The Hartford has been a founding partner of U.S. Paralympics and a title sponsor of The Hartford Ski Spectacular for over two decades. We believe the will to prevail is strong in each and every one of us and pushes us forward in the face of adversity. Our incredible team of U.S. Paralympians embody what the will to prevail really means.
The Hartford® is The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries including issuing companies Hartford Life Insurance Company and Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company. Home Office is Hartford, CT. 6839p NS 11/17. 36USC220506
Photo by Benjamin Edwards