Pioneer finally has chance to chase dream
There were plenty of happy people at the VISA Women’s Ski Jumping Festival held at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP), but perhaps none more satisfied then Karla Keck.
Keck, who turns 31 this week, was a female ski jumper, when there really was no such thing. So, when she found herself at the first international competition since the International Ski Federation (FIS) approved the sport for the 2009 World Nordic Ski Championships, she was understandably ecstatic.
"We’ve been waiting so long for this," Keck said.
Although Keck has recently made the commitment to return to the sport and to training in hopes of making Worlds, she said the approval is most important to the top young women in the sport.
"The girls have been getting better and better," Keck said. "The girls have something to shoot for."
Keck says she remembers taking a 12-year-old Lindsey Van now the No. 2 ranked female jumper in the world to Europe at the tender age of 12, when the two of them were more like a novelty act.
They would forejump at the mens competition and show what women could do, but nobody in the ski jumping world really thought they would come this far, this fast.
"She was very encouraging," said Van, thinking back to those days. "She was the one that pushed this sport."
"When she was jumping, I didn’t think it would happen this soon," said U.S. women’s head coach Casey Colby, a former Olympian who trained with Keck many years ago.
Even as recent as last season, Keck and the rest of the women’s jumping contingent were unsure what to expect.
"None of us would get our hopes up. We didn’t want to be let down again," Keck said. "It’s about time. We’ve waited."
Keck said she was amazed when the FIS made their decision, considering the sexism the women had experienced for years.
"You had to fight through European traditionalism," Keck said. "It was time. The girls are jumping great."
Keck began her journey in Oconomowoc, Wisc., as the daughter of former U.S. ski jumper Bob Keck. Her brother started jumping first and Karla told her father that she wanted to try. He didn’t have the heart to explain to her that women weren’t really doing any ski jumping at the time, and decided to sign her up. age 17, her parents allowed her to move to Europe so she could train with some of the best men and their coaches. She eventually returned to the U.S. to train with Colby and Jarrett Moe and other top American male jumpers. Then it was off to Norway for more exposure. It was there that she met now top-ranked Anette Sagen, who was just starting out in the sport at the time.
With no official competitions to secure sponsorship, Keck completed all of the traveling and training on her own dime. She remembers living in Europe as a teenager with only $3,000 that had to last four months.
Keck and Eva Ganster of Austria were invited to forejump at the 1992 men’s World Cup Four Hills tournaments in Garmisch, Innsbruck, and Bischofshofen. They also competed in the men’s Continental Cups in Europe and the U.S.
In 1994, Keck tried out for the U.S. men’s jumping team, and finished twelfth. But by 2002, with no big changes for the sport on the immediate horizon, Keck decided to step away.
"There was nowhere to go," Keck said.
She went back to Wisconsin, earned a degree in interior design, started her own firm and started sailing competitively, but her heart and mind was always on the jumping hill.
"It’s been fun to watch the whole sport evolve," Keck said.
And evolve it has, the women have gone from men’s competition sideshow to a full Continental Cup schedule, with many nations competing, and athletes that could take first place on any given day.
On Wednesday, Keck returned to pursue her dream. She has jumped at a few competitions here and there in the last few years, but now she plans to train as much as she can and seek sponsorship to help defray training and travel costs. Her trip this weekend was covered by her local yacht club.
As expected, Keck has slipped a little. Real life, age and the lack of constant competition can hurt one’s performance, but Keck hopes with her renewed commitment she can turn her success around. She has the ideal lithe body type for ski jumping, and now, it’s just the mental and physical attributes that need to return.
"It’s good to see someone with that kind of influence see it through," Van said.
Keck plans to train intensely for the next season. She will jump as much as possible with the men in the Central Ski Jumping Division in the Midwest. She also plans to mix in dry-land training. She says she hopes to spend plenty of time at the UOP, training at one of the best facilities in Utah.
"I’ve worked so hard for this," Keck said. "I’ve never had the opportunity to chase my dream."
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