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Originally published: 2011-12-16 10:45:05
Last modified: 2011-12-16 10:45:34

Living the Dream: Glimpses of gold

Justin Grimes / (averyjournalist@gmail.com)

Years ago in Big Sky, Mont., where the winds can howl and the thermometer drops way below zero, a young girl, Keely Kelleher, stared at the poster of Diann Rolfe on her bedroom wall and dreamed.

This weekend during Sugar Mountain Resort’s weekend of fun, SugarFest, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the two champions who were leading Sugar's annual preseason adult ski clinic. 

Diann was the youngest World Alpine Champion at 17, Olympic silver medalist at 24 and she took the podium in Norway in 1994, winning an Olympic gold medal. 

Keely is the 2010 U.S. National Super G Champion.

I wanted to know what motivated them. 

Both of them recalled that when they first began racing they loved and were attracted to the thrill of speed and both said they enjoyed winning. 

I was moved immediately by each woman’s demeanor, their sense of well-being. It’s hard to explain, but I’m familiar with what’s known in the professional theatre as ‘presence,’ a rare attribute found mostly in successful people who have mastered the fundamentals of a given pursuit; a quiet confidence and smiling ease may best describe their personas.

Yet, both women talked about being normal and the value of growing up in ski communities. Diann grew up in upstate New York where her parents were ski instructors at Swain Resort. “Dad was ski school director, so I didn’t have any choice, after school, I went to the mountain; we skied in jeans. It’s so valuable to have night skiing, kids can ski every day of the week,” she said. “They can work on fundamentals; get more time on the slopes than those who have to commute. 

“Skiers need an environment that allows success. Instruction should be simple. Get the technique right and you can add speed later,” Rolfe advised.

By age 12, Diann’s talent was noticed. “I became a pressure performer. Usually I’m very pragmatic, a normal girl, but I was motivated in the big events, the bigger the stage, the better. Americans are traditionally good at large events; they risk more, go for it. European skiers are more reserved. Racing downhill at 70 mph on a very thin blade of steel and coming within inches of the fence didn’t faze me.”

Rolfe said that she didn’t have the luxury of risk anymore; she’s a mom and is busy raising her three-year-old son, Tripp. “He loves skiing already. I have to beg him to come inside,” she said.

The same was true for Kelleher. “I loved being outside on the snow in all conditions as a child, still do,” Keely said. “The mountain was a babysitter. I’d ski in everything.” 

Not only did Keely have the poster of Diann, she had two pet rabbits: “My Diann and Picabo bunnies,” she said (Picabo Street is a three-time Alpine Olympian).

Keely credits her success to her work ethic, passion and mindset for going fast. “I have a touch for the snow and worked hard to be the best,” she said.

Today Keely shares her knowledge with girls’ aged 12 to 16 at her summer Keely Ski Camp for Girls in Mount Hood, Ore. “It shapes who I am. I retired in 2010 and my camp is a transition for me, I want to stay in the ski world and what a better way to do it than spending my time racing downhill with 20 ripping girls.”

Diann and Keely spoke warmly about Sugar Mountain’s chief duo Gunther and Kim Jochl, (Gunther is president of the resort and Kim is marketing director and a former nine-year member of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team).

“I met Kim and Gunther when I was nine at their Redlodge Mountain Summer Racing Camp in Montana,” said Keely. “It opened my life to the world of racing at a high level, of what it could be; my first glimpse of US Ski Team greatness.”

Diann and Keely shared their medals with me. During our conversation, Gunther dropped by and gave Keely a Redlodge gold medal from those early days, a memento for Keely that brought big smiles all around.

I took a fateful picture of Keely holding the Redlodge medal in hopes of saving a glimpse of my golden conversations, or as Thornton Wilder said: A photo to remember “a wonderful day.”