Spirit Of Giving Back Instilled In Keely Cashman
Growing up in a small California town not far from Yosemite National Park instilled a real love of nature in U.S. Ski Team speed racer Keely Cashman (Strawberry, Calif.). Cashman’s passion for the park and her spirit for giving back landed her U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Team Athletes Giving Back Award for 2022. In addition to the honor, she will receive $5,000 for the Yosemite Facelift project at Yosemite National Park. It’s a nice reward for her cause, as Cashman prepares in earnest for the 2022-23 World Cup season.
The annual award is presented to a national team athlete for their efforts giving back to causes of importance to them. Each year the Yosemite Facelift holds a three-day park cleanup effort where volunteers, including Cashman’s family, help put a fresh face on the revered national park.
As a child, Cashman visited the park often with her family. “Every ski season we made a trip to compete in the coveted Silver Ski race in the park at Badger Pass. Being surrounded by such beauty made me realize, from a young age, that the land needs to be preserved and protected.”
She learned about the Yosemite Facelift program from a high school friend a few years ago. “The past few years my mom and I have volunteered,” said Cashman. “We are already looking forward to helping again this September.”
Her participation in the program has been recognized by others locally. Among the many thank you’s she received was a handwritten note from professional rock climber Timmy O’Neill.
Cashman learned about the award itself from her team teammate, Nicola Rountree-Williams, who won the honor a year earlier. Rountree-Williams, who was diagnosed with autism, won the $5,000 to support the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
A rising star on the women’s speed team, Cashman is coming off a pivotal season where she successfully returned from injury and made a strong Olympic debut in Beijing.
“Last season was tricky for me,” she said. “I was coming back from my first injury ever. It took a little more time than I had initially hoped to get back to the top level. Each race I got more confident. I thought my peak skiing was in China at the Olympics.”
A strong multi-event skier as a junior, Cashman had three top-14 finishes as a 16-year-old at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, including 10th in super-G. In 2019, she was fourth in combined at the Junior World Championships in Val di Fassa, Italy. A year later in Narvik, Norway, she stepped it up to bronze.
Just nine months later, she had a breakthrough World Cup weekend in Val d’Isere, racing to 10th in super-G and finishing 15th and 17th in two downhills. But three weeks later, her racing world crashed down around her as a downhill training accident in Garmisch-Partenkirchen knocked her unconscious and put her into a German hospital for eight days. Six months later, she was back on snow.
She admits today that getting back into the starting gate at Garmisch last January was tough. “It was one of the most mentally challenging things I've ever done,” she said. “From the start, you stare at the spot where I crashed. That was crazy. But I skied decently there and was super proud of myself.”
Her Olympic experience in Beijing was another big boost to her confidence. “It was a dream come true for me,” she said. “Leading up to it with all the COVID things happening, I didn’t let it sink in until I was in the village. Once we got there, it was awesome.”
Staying in the Yanqing Athlete Village gave her the opportunity to meet athletes from around the world, both from her sport of alpine skiing as well as ice sliding sports.
She admitted to being nervous in her opening event, taking 27th in super-G. But she had a strong downhill, finishing 17th. In the combined downhill, she skied to an impressive seventh in downhill - just .65 off the lead - before going out in slalom.
It buoyed her confidence and she’s looking forward to the 2022-23 season.
Looking ahead to the coming season with a new set of coaches and fresh, young teammates who are creating a new team dynamic, she’s feeling confident. “Right now I have a great mindset,” she said. “I've been training hard in the gym. I feel stronger than I've ever been! We have a whole new coaching staff with some younger girls coming up. It kind of feels like a fresh start."
“I’m trying to take my skiing and my confidence and the mental approach that I took into the last races of last season into the next season. So, I’m really excited – and happy!”
In a way, Cashman is emerging as a young leader on a team in a very positive transition. “We have probably the youngest speed team of any nation,” she said. “It's a really young group of girls. We have good bonds off the hill – we push each other.”
Veterans Jackie Wiles and Alice Merryweather are still on the sidelines with injuries. But their veteran presence is still felt by the team. Breezy Johnson, one of the top-ranked downhillers in the world, is expected back from injury for the season.
Like many, Cashman’s wondering how the planned Zermatt downhills will work in early November. She’s especially looking forward to running the downhill track at St. Moritz and Kvitfjell, where the women will be running the 1994 Olympic course for the first time since 1996.
Cashman takes great pride in the Team Athletes Giving Back Award – it’s a part of her overall growth as a world-class athlete. She also has a positive vibe for the future, not letting her January 2021 injury get in the way.
“Before I got injured, I had the best results that I've ever had,” she said confidently. “I just try to remember that I can ski with the best in the world. I have the skill. I have what it takes to make it. So I’ll just take it day-by-day and (move forward with) small victories.”