Local athlete has leg up on competition | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Local athlete has leg up on competition

Colin Hupp

Like many local athletes, Brent Keummerle is looking for sponsorship from a major equipment manufacturer, and he has good reason to be hopeful of getting one. He’s tall and photogenic with long red hair, and recently started a racing career in snowboarding.

Last month at Mammoth, Keummerle won a silver medal in his class in giant slalom and a bronze in slalom at the USASA National Snowboard Championships. His times earned him a second in overall carving for his class.

But unlike other local athletes, he isn’t approaching snowboard manufacturers like Burton and K2. He’s pitching to companies like Springlight and Ohio Willowwood for options in his sporting life.

Almost six years after losing his right leg to an automobile accident, he placed well at last month’s USASA event in the adaptive class.

“It feels good,” he said, and it should, since he started boarding just three years ago.

Now he hopes that prosthetic leg manufacturers will take notice.

Despite his accomplishment in Mammoth, he feels that the competition was a wake-up call, alerting him to the quality of other riders in his class.

“There were five other guys, five other one-legged riders, and every one of them was better than me,” he said modestly.

“It’s easy to be the hometown hero,” he added, but when the competition comes from all over, he must rise to the challenge.

An avid climber, Keummerle took up snowboarding to pass the winter and got hooked. He loves to carve and prefers running gates to events like boardercross or big air. That’s mostly because the prosthetic leg he uses in snowboarding and climbing is the same one that keeps him walking around town, and those events put extreme wear and tear on the leg.

“Legs can cost $10,000 and up,” said Keummerle, who would like to have a couple extra in his collection so the Flexfoot model he walks on will last longer. Having only one leg for all of his activities means that he’ll have to replace that one more often.

He likes racing, but like other South Shore riders, his true addiction is the powder; on any given day he prefers hiking into the backcountry for his turns. He makes snowboard descents of local peaks, with his favorites being Mount Ralston, Echo Peak, Pyramid and Mount Tallac.

From his friend Dave Soldavini, Keummerle learned that “when sliding out of control and heading for a cliff, hit a tree.” This seemingly arbitrary advice actually proved indispensable for a ski trip to Red Lake Peak when he got the chance to put it into practice.

Growing up in the flatlands of Omaha, Neb., hardly qualifies one for backcountry skiing, but his life there and at Rapid City, S.D., did help prepare him for hardship. Being a punk rocker and vegan in the homeland of beefeaters and country music fans taught him that different is OK, something he drew on after losing his leg.

In his 20s he left the Midwest with “my car full of stuff and $500,” Keummerle said. He came to California to pursue his dreams, and because the Western United States offered more climbing opportunities.

His accident barely slowed him down from climbing. After spending three weeks in the hospital, he returned to belaying for his friends after only two months and resumed climbing after only six months recovery.

With sunny days and rapidly disappearing snow, Keummerle’s ready to get back to his preferred sport, climbing at the local crags.

He looks forward to sunny spring days climbing around the South Shore, but recent storms will keep him on the board and in the backcountry for a few more weeks. Brent can’t resist the pull of the mountains, despite his limitations, and won’t let his injury or the lack of a sponsorship keep him from his favorite sports.

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