OGDEN -- One of Ogden's own is getting ready to become an Olympic pioneer.
Local adaptive snowboarder and Winter X Games champion Keith Gabel was one of 11 athletes named recently to the U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team, which will participate in the first-ever Paralympic snowboard competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"It's a great opportunity to be part of history in the making," said Gabel, who had his lower left leg amputated following a work accident in 2005. "It's a great feeling to be recognized for all the hard work we've been putting in."
The nominations for the national team members come almost exactly one year after the International Paralympic Committee announced that snowboard cross will be included in the alpine skiing program at the 2014 Winter Games. Adaptive snowboarders around the world had been campaigning for years to have their sport included.
"A year ago, there was very little opportunity for Paralympic snowboarders, and now there is chance for a Paralympic gold medal," said Kevin Jardine, high performance director for Paralympic alpine skiing and snowboarding for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Our national team athletes are among the world's best and are up to the challenge of medaling in Sochi."
At this point, there are about 10 countries fielding teams, most of them European.
No state is better represented on the U.S. team roster than Utah. While Gabel, currently the third-ranked adaptive snowboarder in the world, was the only Utahn to make the six-person A team, three others -- Nicole Roundy, of Bountiful, and Tyler Burdick and Joseph Chandler, of Salt Lake City -- were named to the B team.
Colorado and California each have two riders on the team, while Nevada, Montana and Pennsylvania each have one.
Gabel was essentially a shoo-in for the team after a strong season this past winter in which he made the podium in six out seven competitions, including a silver medal at a World Cup competition in Slovenia and a third place finish in the national championships at Copper Mountain, Colo.
"It's been quite the wild ride this last season," he said. "I rode well for the most part, so I'm pretty excited."
Since the end of the season, Gabel has been rehabilitating from injuries sustained in two crashes at Copper Mountain, where he tore a groin muscle and separated a shoulder, but still managed to put together a third run that was good enough to put him on the podium.
But the biggest challenge, he said, has been raising enough money to pay for travel and other expenses associated with competitive snowboarding. To pay for expenses that totaled about $17,000 this past season, he had to pull out all the stops, including selling his car. A grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation helped pay for his trip to Europe, where he had the chance to ride the Sochi course and compete at the Slovenia World Cup event.
"We're all just poor athletes trying to make it," Gabel said. "It's been quite the financial struggle to make this happen, but it's totally worth it. You make sacrifices when you have to."
Because competitive adaptive snowboarding is relatively new to the scene, Gabel said there just aren't enough endorsement deals out there to support everyone.
While searching for corporate endorsements, he's also soliciting individual sponsorships through a personal page on the website gofundme.com (www.gofundme.com/1hdltw).
While nominees to the team won't officially be confirmed until as late as July 1, Gabel said the roster is all but a done deal.
"I would be surprised if anyone jumped a spot one way or the other," he said. "It just kind of crossing the t's and dotting the i's at this point, but you still have to work hard. They want to keep everyone hungry and working."
The nominees will participate in a training camp next week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. After that, it's just a matter of staying in shape and raising the necessary funds, Gabel said.
"A year ago, we had no idea if we would even be in it," he said. "All of the other sports have had four years to prepare for Sochi, but we've only had a year or so. It's about overcoming the odds and coming out on top."