SVSEF’s Jesse Keefe to Compete with the U.S. National Para Alpine Team

“We are a ski family. We learn how to walk through how we ski, so that’s what we did with Jesse.” explains Kirsta Gehrke, mother of 17-year-old, newly-named National Para Alpine athlete, Jesse Keefe.  

Keefe, a SVSEF athlete of ten years, earned his position with the National Para Alpine Team after a series of impressive finishes in World Para Alpine Skiing races over the 2020-2021 season. Keefe accrued nine top-three finishes across three slalom, three giant slalom, and three Super G racesincluding two golds and a bronze at the National Championships in Winter Park, CO. Keefe’s performance this season ranks him at 15th in Slalom, 35th in Giant Slalom and 34th in Super G by the International Paralympic Committee. In addition to being named to the National Para Alpine Team, these results qualify Keefe for the 2022 Winter Paralympics Games in Beijing, China. 

When Keefe wasn’t racing World Para Alpine Skiing races this season, he competed alongside his SVSEF teammates at FIS races throughout the Western Region. Since his first Kindercup at the age of three, Keefe cut his teeth as a racer alongside able-bodied peers. From the Devo team now to FIS, Keefe has been treated no differently than his teammateshe had never even raced in a designated Para Alpine race until last year.  

Born without an ankle bone, Keefe’s leg was amputated below the knee at 11 months oldhe uses an advanced prosthetic for skiing. “We’ve never treated him different, and neither did SVSEF. Most people didn’t even know until he took his prosthetic off,” Gehrke laughs. “I think he was on the Mini World Cup team, and he was standing on the podium outside of Apples. He took his leg off and held it over his head like a trophy.  

Beneath this good sense of humor is a diligent, determined athlete. “It is awesome working with Jesse. He works his butt off. He works hard in the gym, on the field and on the mountain. He continues to amaze me and the rest of coaching staff with what he does, and continues to do each day.” Gladys Weidt, Head FIS coach, shares. “He’s resilient and tough. He is extremely coachable, and he has really great outlook on anything and everything. He gets along with everyone, and personally I’ve never even really seen him in a bummed-out mood. He doesn’t let results get the best of him.” 

The payoff of Keefe’s open-minded attitude and tenacious work ethic has long been anticipated, which makes the realization of these next tremendous steps in his career all the more powerful to those who have cheered him on“I am still kind of grasping at the fact that this is happening. It’s something we have talked about his whole life, and for it to actually be happening is amazing. His first race was the Kindercup, at age 3, and he made it onto the front of the paper. You could just see he was going to be a ski racerat three years old, on the front page of the paper... and I’m just along for the ride, I’m his cheerleader. It’s his journey, you know? Gehrke adds. 

While competing with the National Para Alpine Team in the upcoming season, Keefe will remain training with SVSEF in Ketchum. When asked what her hopes are for Jesse this upcoming season, Coach Weidt offered: “I hope he continues to learn through experience by getting into different atmospheres, meeting different people, and keeps excelling for the rest of his career. A lot of doors are going to open for him this upcoming year, and I want him to take it step by stepcontinue growing and improving. Knowing Keefe’s track record to date, we can expect these hopes—and far more—to be achieved by this latest athlete to represent our community on the world stage.