When professional freeskier and Warren Miller Entertainment ripper Keely Kelleher retired from the US Ski Team in 2010 due to accumulated injuries, she didn’t see an end. Rather, the 27-year old saw only beginnings. It was an opportunity to hone her big mountain skills, have a film career, and to give back to the sport of ski racing and skiing.
Inspiration came quickly. As a coach on Mt Hood, Kelleher noticed something was missing from the camp experience: an all girls ski race program. After that, she knew creating one would be her way to give back to ski racing – and female athletes.
Kelleher moved on making her ski race camp reality right away, with research and design. “I asked a lot of young girls in the sport what they would want in an all girls camp. I also gave the girls a survey at the end of my first camp as to what they liked, learned and would have wanted more of. But honestly, being a female athlete my entire life has given me a lot of the experience I've needed to run the camps. It is very easy for the staff to relate to what these girls are experiencing as female athletes because a lot of us just retired or are still competing.”
Kelleher also chose not just to have female campers, but to stack her staff with solely women. “To have an all female staff of incredible role models and heroes of the sport would have been such an inspiration to me as a little girl,” said Keely.
The camps also emphasize an important issue that young male racers don’t have to deal with – body image. Skiing and ski racing are power sports, and looking strong enough to slay a downhill course is not an image young girls see promoted in the media everyday. So Kelleher added two specific conditioning camps, called ‘Muscles are Pretty,’ and addresses the issue directly in all her camps.
“Muscles are pretty! I want that message sent to the girls. Be proud of your 'thunder thighs' and 'skier’s butt' and embrace your healthy and beautiful athletic self. I tell the girls if they want to pull off a turn going 80 mph they need big, strong muscles,” said Kelleher. “There are enough magazines telling us what’s pretty and what’s not. It falls in line with the message we as female athletes and coaches need to send. It's our responsibility to send this message.”
After the first few camps – four in the first year - it appears Kelleher has hit on something good. She has a keen following among young racers. “Keely’s camp isn't like any other camp,” said 12-year old Katie Hensien of Washington. “The coaches are some of the best skiers in the world. They run the course with you. This is great because you get to talk to them about how it feels and get to see how it is supposed to be done.”
Skier Sommer Glasgow, 13, agrees and added her appreciation for the single sex model. “What makes Keely's camp different is it's all girls, so no boy drama, which is always good.”
Keely, who is back pursuing an education at Westminster College in her spare time, can finally look back on the work of the past year and feel that something was accomplished. “There is always a lot of risk in going for an idea, but I really believed in it and was ready to take that risk,” said Kelleher. “I think that helped me overcome a lot of doubts and uncertainties I had about whether the idea would bite.”
No one knows better than Kelleher the impact a coach can have on a life, and she hopes her camps will spread a positive impact. “I had a coach tell me when I was young to ski with a big heart, and freeski your heart out all over the mountain. Those words have helped me persevere through a lot of successes and obstacles in my life, and help me remember to always do things for the right reason. If you love it, then do it and put 100% of your heart into it.”