Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Doug Keil - Visionaries Act

June 21, 2023 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 180
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Doug Keil - Visionaries Act
Show Notes Transcript

Challenge Alaska's founder, Doug Keil, was electrocuted when he was 14. As a result, his left arm and left leg were amputated. Following the accident, Doug struggled with depression. After many years, he discovered an adaptive program at Winter Park in Colorado in 1975, which renewed his hope and helped turn his life around. Doug represented the United States in the 1980 Winter Paralympics, winning 2 Gold Medals in para-alpine skiing. 

Returning from the Paralympics, Doug was determined to bring the same opportunities he found in Winter Park to Alaskans living with disabilities. Challenge Alaska was founded in 1980 and incorporated in 1982 to provide sports and recreation opportunities to Alaskans living with disabilities. Our first "office" was in a broom closet at Alyeska Resort, serving less than a dozen participants. Challenge Alaska now helps more than 1,000 people living with disabilities every year. A small sampling of our programs include archery, sled hockey, adaptive skiing, book club, and so much more.

About Challenge Alaska

  • Mission: Challenge Alaska improves the lives of people with disabilities, their families, and the community through adaptive sports, therapeutic recreation, and education.
  • Vision: Alaskans of all abilities have equal opportunity and access to sports, recreation, and community.

A Quote from This Episode

  • "It was the first time since my accident that I felt the wind in my hair. Being able to move and the feeling of exhilaration...your body is free."

Resources/Authors Mentioned in This Episode

The International Studying Leadership Conference

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals interested in the study, practice, and teaching of leadership. Plan now for ILA's 25th Global Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on October 12-15, 2023.

About  Scott J. Allen

My Approach to Hosting

  • The views of my guests do not constitute "truth." Nor do they reflect my personal views in some instances. However, they are views to consider, and I hope they help you clarify your perspective. Nothing can replace your reflection, research, and exploration of the topic.

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.

Scott Allen  0:00  

Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thanks for checking in wherever you are in the world. Practical Wisdom for Leaders. And today, we have a leader, and I'm going to introduce him to you at the end, I think. At the end, I'm going to say a few words about his story. The episode is really going to focus on him telling his story. And it's a story that should be known, and it's a story of leadership. And today, I have Doug Keil. Doug is an Alaskan, and he is an individual that I met for the first time last summer. And we had some conversations, and I just began to better understand his story. And I thought, “Wow, this would be an incredible, incredible podcast episode.” So Doug, I am so thankful for your time today. Thank you so much for being with us. And I'm excited for listeners to hear your story. So, sir, it's Alaska, it's March. What do you got? What do you got? Like 10 below right now, or is it in the 20s? (Laughs)


Doug Keil  1:05  

Thankfully, today, we have sun. Whenever there's sun, it means it's chilly. Today, I don't know, it's in the 20s. It got nice and said it would be maybe in the upper 30s by the end of the day. But it's pretty much every 15 minutes, you get something new. I was riding to Providence Hospital the other day. I have a wound I need bandaging twice a week. And as I was listening to the weatherman, he said it was clear and cold outside and we'll have sun today. And as I'm looking at the sky, it’s nothing but clouds. I asked myself, “These weathermen, basically, gee, why don't you just look out your window?” But thankfully, for the last few days, it's the end of what we call the rendezvous up here. It's a week-long winter celebration. And thankfully, the weather stayed cold enough that the ice sculptures didn't melt like in the past. And the sun has made it enjoyable to be around. So, this is a time of year that Alaskans generally tend to run off to Hawaii or other places for a week, or two, or more. But anybody that’s lived up here long enough knows that it ain't over till it's over. I've seen snow on May 27th.


Scott Allen  2:35  

(Laughs) Well, sir, let's talk about your story. Let's talk about your story. Start your story where you want to start your story. It’s a fascinating story.


Doug Keil  2:43  

I’ll start at where it all began, or where my life began. I was born outside the United States. My father took a two-year stint to go to Beirut, Lebanon, and teach history, American history, and physics at the American University of Beirut. My mother, it was pretty much right after their honeymoon. She had never been outside New York City, and then she ends up in Beirut, Lebanon. And then, the second year, I came along and they decided to not extend their working overseas and come home. And they came back to New York where they were both born, lived, and grew up. Then my uncle was up here in Alaska trying to build some homes and things. So, I was brought to Alaska against my will at nine months old.


Scott Allen  3:45  

I had no voice in the decision, right?


Doug Keil  3:49  

Whatever my voice was, I guess, I wasn't pronouncing words at nine months old. We ended up here in Alaska. And my mother, the trooper she was, became a pioneer woman, and my dad walked to work each day with this huge bearskin coat that my uncle had during the service. We made it our home. I'm glad we did. It's another country, for crying out loud. So, I grew up here. I learned to ski in my backyard at three years old and continued. We were very well off. So my skis came out of a garbage can inside of Safeway where you got the strap-on metal skis, no ski boots, and bamboo poles. The more kids laughed at me, the more I got better. I wasn't going to let people humiliate me because of not being able to afford the type of ski boots and skis that the other kids had. I got a paper rod at 10 years old with 27 papers. And by the time I was 14, had 197 papers and was making gardener half, if not three-quarters of what my own father was making working for the federal government. So, I was doing well, I bought myself a pair of skis and a pair of boots. They come into the story when I got hurt, and I’ll kind of jump forward from three and four years old, etc, to the time when I was 13 and 14. I was in Boy Scouts. And I had a friend here in Anchorage whose father became commissioner of education for the state. And our state capitol is in Juneau, of which you can only get to by water or air. I saved up to go visit Dave on his birthday in August. I arrived Wednesday, the 27th of August 1968. And the next day, he and another boy scout took me on a hike up behind Juneau on a road called Basing Road, which terminates at the beginning of the perseverance trail and an old Goldmine building area. There were a lot of buildings. In the main building, during the summer, they would perform an old ragtime-type or gold-rush-type story of Dan McGrew. So, people were coming and going from that group of buildings. In the fall, they set up a no-trespassing sign, but that's it. People would still be up there. There happened to be a small 30-foot electric tower next to a smaller generator-type building right next to the large building where the public would go in. And my friend Dave, being a boy scout, had been up there numerous times and had noticed on one occasion there was a board hanging halfway up the tower. A board was hanging on the side was some old glass Pyrex insulators. And he said, “Doug, I need a hand with these.” And I asked him straight on, “Well, is it hot, is there electricity?” He said, “Doug, I've been up and down this tower thousands of times, there's no power. There's no fence around it, there's no high-voltage signs,” etc, etc.I said okay. And with a great deal of trepidation, I decided to go up the ladder with them. We got up on top of the shed, he advanced over to the side where the board was. It started to rain, I felt uncomfortable and told him I was going to get down. I didn't want to be there anymore. Y Instead of going around the outside, I took a shortcut in between the tower and my left leg came in contact with a 24,000-volt uninsulated wire that, when I got hit, felt like a two-by-six hit me in the back and I had time to say, “Goodbye dad, Paula, Melissa, Carrie, and Kathy,” that was my family. I knew I was going to die, and I'm laid up there. My leg would swing at the wire, bounce back, hit the wire, bounce back. Now, there was another scout with us at the time. Dave jumped off the tower and ran into town, which I don't know how many miles that was. But the police report said that I was electrocuted for approximately 15 minutes, but that was pretty much when they had arrived there. I had been electrocuted on and off for about 32 minutes. The leg dropped off. My arm was burned quite badly. The worst part was it put a hole in my side, from the hip to the middle of my stomach, to the ribs, to the middle of my back. It was just like the size of a football or a shark had bitten out half of me. I remember at one point holding in my own intestines while they were trying to get me down. They got me into the hospital, and thankfully, being electrocuted cauterizes the veins and stuff. So, I didn't bleed to death. That was the good part. The bad part was I woke up in the emergency room and I looked down, and the first thing I said was, “Where is my other shoe?” I had spent all summer, I had bought my skis, my boots, and a pair of Jack Purcell tennis shoes, which, at the time, were like Air Jordans. I knew I didn't have a leg, but I was more angry about losing my shoe. So, I'd worked so hard for it. That kind of shows you the disassociation you have when you're in shock. But I was in terrible condition. Absolutely terrible. I became very good friends with the doctor, Dr. Henry Akiyama, who had been known as one of the top doctors in Juneau. He and I later became very good friends. And he was very honest with me and told me that I probably wouldn't live to get to Seattle. And he was equally honest with my parents, telling them, basically, “You're going to pick up the body.” Where it comes back to the skis is... at University Washington Hospital, my dad was allowed to kind of take a step into the emergency room. And I said to him, “Dad, this is going to cost a lot of money, but I'll only sell one ski and one boot because I'm going to learn the skill on one leg.” And that was, to him, the motivation for keeping me alive, I think. He could see that I was strong enough to say those things even though I was pretty much on the ropes. I lifted my left arm to say, “Dad, don't worry about it.” And that's when I noticed my [Inaudible 12:21] burned really bad. And I said, “My goodness, what happened to my arm?” And then, I passed out. So, throughout the whole process of rehabilitation, and then the doctor's rehab wanted me to wear a leg. I had a very short amputation, and legs are very difficult to keep on anything when you have a short amputation. And I realized that there was no way I was going to ski with an artificial leg. And they said it would be too dangerous for me, with my size being as bad as it was, that if I took a bad fall I could rip open. So, my dreams of skiing went out the window. I was an avid baseball player. But I had a conversation with my dad that, although I couldn't play, I could coach. Then I coached a little league team for a while, but it just all became too much. And I never entertained the thought again about skiing. In 1975, I think it was, I graduated on time. Didn’t miss any school, and I had tutors in the hospital. There was a couple of family in our church, he was in the Air Force and he had been transferred to Colorado. And he heard of a place called Winter Park, which is a ski resort, but also happened to be the mecca for people with disabilities to come to learn to ski. And most of them were out of Fitzsimons Army Medical Center Hospital in Vietnam vets. And it was the veterans of Vietnam that taught me to ski. Now, prior to that there was a movie, and it's still out there somewhere. It could be on Netflix, or whatever. But it's called ‘Just a little inconvenience.’ It starred… There was a guy that was the $6 million man.


Scott Allen  14:32  

Lee Majors, was that Lee Majors?


Doug Keil  14:35  

Yeah, Lee Majors. He was a Vietnam vet, and he had a friend. And the friend was another actor by the name of James Stacey. James Stacy was riding a motorcycle in Las Vegas, got hit, and lost his left arm and leg. So, he played… I can’t remember his character, but he played Lee Major's friend who got hurt in Vietnam. And Stacey, as this movie is about Stacey being just traumatized by the loss of his arm and leg. He’s drinking all the time, doing drugs and everything. And Lee Majors' character wanted to help. And he got him involved with other Vietnam vets. And got him skiing in the movie. And when I saw that, I saw one arm or leg, a guy like myself, same side. And I said, “Well if he can do it, I can do it.” And it was fortuitous that his family got hold of my parents and told them about Winter Park pretty much at the same time. So, I wasn't doing anything. The doctors told me that I probably wouldn't live to be 30 with all the stress and everything in my heart. And so, I had dropped out of college up here, and I kind of started to spiral down myself. My parents came to me with a plane ticket and said, “Look, here's this place in Winter Park. Here's a ticket. Here's some money to stay for a week down there. Go down there and see what's possible.” And if it were not for the people that had moved to Colorado and let my parents know, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Most likely, I would be dead. So, I owe a great deal of gratitude, not only to that family but to my parents and my family here for supporting me in that thing. We had gone through the ‘64 earthquake. A lot of that trauma left over, and then, four years later, I get electrocuted. So trauma compounding on trauma. And that not only affected me, but the family, and everybody else. But, long story short, I arrived at Winter Park going from 92 feet elevation going to 15,000 feet. I was white as a ghost. When I pulled into the parking lot, there were arms, and legs, wheelchairs laying all over the place. And the finish line was right in front of me. And, to my amazement, I see this guy skiing down the hill, he’s in a push-up position. His name was Rien Kirby, and he had been born with spina bifida. He would mount his ski boots backward, put his hands in, ski in the push-up position, trailing his legs, using them as a rudder in a way. And he did a handstand as he went underneath the finish line, and I was just blown away. I had never seen anything like this before. And there are a lot of amputees coming across the line, skiing in the mountains, all sorts of things. So, I did not realize that I had walked into the week of the National Handicap Championship Ski races at that time. And, of course, they call it the handicapped back then because that's what they called us back then. It's always, each year, you learn what you are from somebody else. 




Doug Keil  18:56  

And I walked up into the office [Inaudible 18:58] Larry, who is the head instructor, and I said, “Hello,” out of breath. “My name is Doug Keil and I’m here to learn to ski.”


Scott Allen  19:10



Doug Keil  19:12  

I'll never forget it because he said, “Good God, sit down and rest. I don't mind you dying after you leave, but not in my office.” Anyway, he took me downstairs, and we got a ski and boot. And, at the time, I was wearing my artificial arm, and he wired that to -- we call them outriggers -- they're a type of… Actually, they're Canadian crutches. They're the kind that has a wrist thing. You put your wrist in and hold the handle. It doesn't come all the way up to the armpits like regular crunches do. So, they're kind of like fortified [Inaudible 19:51] And an outrigger is one of those with an angle on the bottom and a short ski tip. So, it's much like an outrigger canoe; it helps with the balance. Well, first of all, he took me over to an area where a lot of snow had been graded to a slant. And he said, “We're gonna walk up the slant, and you're going to ski down.” And so I side-stepped up. He was saying, “It's amazing first-time skier can even be able to sidestep up,” and I said, “Well, I had skied before.” And he said, “Even so, your whole balance looks really good.” And I skied to the bottom. He said, “Okay, now we go to the top.” And that's where infuriated me because our mountain here, Alyeska, back in the ‘70s, was an extremely high intermediate mountain. And there was only one chairlift at that time. And you got up to the top, you had to come back down. So, he gets me up to the top, and that's how I saw skiing in America. It was nice powdered snow, it had been groomed, and there wasn't any ice. It was just beautiful, and I skied down the whole mount. And he said, “Once again, I've never seen anybody on their first time doing what you're doing, especially without stomach muscles.” It was incredible, but I could not ski anymore that day, my leg had been completely burned out. But that set me on the course of coming home to Alaska and saying to a couple of friends of mine, “We need something like that up here.” We weren't in a state until, I don't know, what was it? ‘58, ‘59, whenever. And we're a new state. If you were in the service, you got combat duty because you were outside the contiguous United States. And, in many respects, it still is a country of its own.


Scott Allen  22:12  

There's definitely, as my family experienced,  what is that plane ride from Anchorage to Seattle? It's three hours. That's a significant distance that you just don't think about necessarily. Or the fact, to your point, you can't drive to the capital. (Laughs)


Doug Keil  22:30  

The people in Alaska voted twice to move the capital to Anchorage, where we made populous is, and the major airport. And even though we voted for it, it's not been done. Juneau’s economic outlook would be dismal because all of the state workers would be gone. When the legislature is in session, they go down in January. But people get gouged just for housing down there when the legislature is in session. It's kind of bizarre. But anyway, back to skiing again.


Scott Allen  23:10  

When you did that first run, did anything spark in you? Like, “Oh, wow.” What did that do for you? Was there any kind of moment, or was it…?


Doug Keil  23:20  

Yeah, there really was. And I mentioned it in an article in 1980. It was the first time since my accident that I felt the wind in my hair. Being able to move and the feeling of exhilaration. As you're skiing, you're enjoying the feeling; your body is free, and your body is moving. There's motion, there's action, there's input, sensory input coming from everywhere. And the one thing I noticed was my hair. I had longer hair back then, my hair was blowing like I was on a bicycle, or a motorcycle, or something. Yeah, the wind in my hair. And that was the magical thing. And feeling your body react other than sitting in a wheelchair or hopping. I'll get on to something else here in a minute. So, in 75, I came back and started talking. Going to Lions Clubs, and things like that, talking about different things. And two people, Colleen Trout and a woman by the name of Cheyenne were ski instructors down at Mount Alyeska, and I was talking to them. And I said, “We can do this. I don't want an administrative position. I don't want to be an executive director.”  I said, “I don't have much time left in my life, I'd be more than happy to be the spokesperson, but I'm going to need help in the administrative side at grant writing, all these other things.” So we started out, really, in 1976, ‘75 and ‘76. And right at the same time, all the oil was being talked about. The money would start flowing, and you’d think that a program such as this might be worthwhile to invest in in the state. But we got looked over and itched our way through for a few years. 1977 came along, and I was the only disabled skier up here at the time. So, I went down to represent Alaska against teams from California all over. And these people were skiing every day. Many Vietnam vets lived in the ski areas, and they had 100% disability. So, they had the money, the wherewithal, and everything to be able to do it. But I needed an outrigger, and no one could build an outrigger up here in Alaska of that type. And a couple of the vets put me in the trunk of the car and drove me to not… I mean, put me in the trunk a block away.


Scott Allen  26:33  

(Laughs) This episode was taking its turn.


Doug Keil  26:37  

Yeah. Away from Fitzsimons Hospital. Snuck me in the backdoor into the prosthetic group. And we talked him into making me this outrigger that had a socket for my arm stomp, and then an aluminum pole down to a small [Inaudible 26:57] that I'd wear as an arm. So, it was an extra appendage, which was completely dangerous because the helicopter did tear my shoulder out. And it was against the rules for me, not being a vet, to have a prosthetic made [Inaudible 27:22]


Scott Allen  27:24  

Okay. Yep.


Doug Keil  27:20  

Which really wasn't that much. But we got out of there and hit Loveland, Colorado ski area. And I got up, and man, I skied all day. And on the kind of bunny beginner's Hill, but it still was skiing. And I was skiing with other amputees. And I kept saying to myself, “This should be back home. People need this back home. They shouldn't have to spend money to fly to Colorado to do it.” So, we began to build a strategy. And in ‘77, I came in second in the very first race I ever did; that was extremely exciting as well for me and for my family. And, once again, it kind of helped to have that little blurb in the paper to say, “Alaskan skier takes second place.” So it kept it in the [Inaudible 28:32] 1979. All this time Challenge Alaska was called Alaska Handicap Sports and Recreation Association, which is a big mouth full. So, in 79, I went down to race again, and I blew out a gate, so I was disqualified. So, I could kind of sit around and ski for the rest of the week but also watch the other skiers, pick up some tips, and things like that. I returned home, and trained during the summer. I was looking for a new job. I was 28, staring two years left in my life in the face, and I got a phone call. The phone call was from the president of the Disabled Ski Association saying, “Doug, you're the only skier that went over one leg in the United States. There are others in Europe, and so, we want you to come down and try out for the Paralympic team.” Man, that just changed my life because now, instead of dying, I was going to try out for the Olympics. I made it to the team. And then, I think it was in February, or whatever, 1980, headed to Norway with the team. It was a very humbling experience because you start to understand that not only are you representing Alaska, but you're representing the United States now. There wasn't a lot going on in 1980 in terms of world turmoil, but still, people would ask me if I was from America, and I said, “Well, I'm from Alaska,” and that would immediately turn off the political side of things and focus on, “Do you live in an igloo?” “Do you get to work using a dog sled?” 


Scott Allen  30:42  



Dough Keil  30:44  

The normal [Inaudible 30:45], “You’re an Alaskan.” Which I found… Prior to that, I'd been to Europe and Egypt, and stuff in 1977, and I found that saying that, it would put a halt to the attitude, you're going to hear click, a halt to the attitude of anything political. So, it's race day. Everyone, every member of the team, had to be drug tested and seen by a panel of doctors, whether or not they were going to be allowed to ski because, even in the Paralympics, this is the second Paralympic Games, the second Winter Paralympic Games ever held and they'd look for doping, or some sort of substance. So, everyone had to pass through that kind of stuff. So, here comes race day. I get all dressed, excited, and to the top of the giant slalom I'm sitting there, and it was freezing cold. The socket that my arm was in was just plastic and exposed to the weather. It was below zero, and I could tell my stump was starting to get frostbitten. But it came to my group. And I'm sitting there, and my coach calls me up to get me ready. And I said, “Where's the other five?” And he said, “They didn't qualify; they wouldn't let them race.” And I said, “Well, I'm not racing against myself. That's unfair.” He took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye, and he said, “Doug, we need as many medals as we can get to go back to the United States to prove that what we're doing is right, we're successful, and it's going to get bigger. So, we really need you to ski the best as you can, ski against yourself, your own dime. And I did, and I finished, and I got a gold medal, which was great for me, my girlfriend that was with me. But for the rest of the team, they ostracized me. I wouldn't eat with him at the table, Mary and I would generally eat by ourselves or maybe with somebody else. But I can understand how they felt because they weren't told what I was told; they just saw one guy ski by himself and get a gold medal. That weighed on me quite heavily during my time there. I know I just did it again when it came up to the slalom race. I skied against myself. I best my time. I got a gold medal, but I was still kind of the black sheet. During the handing out of the medals, I believe there was a woman from Romania who skied against herself for everyone in the games. So, it ended up that I wasn't the only one. But no matter what, I put that aside. And when I came off the airplane, I got first-class treatment all the way home. First class seat on SAS. I was kind of like a celebrity to them. And, in Norway and in Europe, disabled skiing had been going on for a very long time. It was the Swiss, Austrians, and Germans that skied every day downhill. We're talking downhill now. World War II guys were skiing over in Europe long before America was. There were a few in America, of course. My first exposure was our congressman, Howard Pollack, who had lost his arm in World War II in the Navy, and he had a hook. And I would watch him skiing in the mountains when I was a kid. So, I knew it wasn't unusual, but I never saw a one-legged skier. Blind cross-country skiing had been going on for a long time. But the crowds in Europe were crowds. It was like the other Olympics. People over there appreciate not only people getting out and doing something like that but also competing. And they rooted for those in their country. There was a one-armed Norwegian kid that, 40 years later, I find out is related to my best friend that I work with up here. His family was from Norway. He was his mother's cousin. And he and I both skied in the same Olympics. And I went to Norway six years ago to see if I could track him down, but he was out of the country. But that's when Challenge Alaska really started to have some sort of recognition because not only did I ski in 77 and got second place, but, this time, I came home with two gold medals, and knowing recognized much of it because that's the year that we beat the Russians in the hockey game in Lake Placid. So, I didn't get any underwear commercials; I'm not even on a small box of Cheerios or…


Scott Allen  36:48

Or Wheaties. (Laughs)  I'll send you a box of Wheaties with you on it.


Doug Keil  36:52  

Well, it's great to see where it is today. And I'm really proud of the fact of having the opportunity. And now, to be in the museum in Colorado Springs. There's a new Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, and I'm in there. I'm just packing up my gold medals in my blazers to send to them now. 


Scott Allen  37:20  



Dough  Keil  37:20  

Yeah. I gave them my team sweater and my team hat, but I decided it was probably a good place for it to be. So, if my family ever takes a trip down to Colorado, just see that. But other people have actually been there and sent me a note saying they were there. But what we really want to do is take… Alaska has year-round recreation. That's when we really decided that, “Let's get the ski program solid, known to people in Anchorage, and have a solid foundation underneath it.” And Colleen and Cheyenne, we would send them down to Colorado to ski program. Have them certified. And there are three levels of certification. So, we reached a point where, in Alaska, we had three certification-one instructors in the state, which was an awful lot compared to many other states. And once we got that settled, then we started to look at summer recreation because summer is the most accessible in a sense. We didn't have bike trails and everything then, but there was still kayaking. We had a kayaking program, outdoor basketball, and wheelchair races. There are always five K's going on, so we were able to…


Scott Allen  38:55  

If I remember correctly, you told me about races from Anchorage to Denali.


Dough Keil  39:00  

Fairbanks to Anchorage.


Scott Allen  39:03  

Fairbanks to Anchorage. That's an intense track; it's not short-distance.


Doug Keil  39:12  

It's insanity, actually. It was started by three guys in regular wheelchairs. In today's wheelchair racing things, these are high-tech, very high expensive stuff. You try pushing your butt from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Just get just getting out of Fairbanks, the first day, they may get to where you got to get out at Fairbanks, and then, you're rested for a full day because it's all uphill out of Fairbanks. And it took him like three or four weeks to get to Anchorage. But that was the impetus. That was the beginning of what became known as the Midnight Sun Marathon. And, at the end -- I can't remember how many years we did it, I would say 15 years -- but, by the end, there were participants. We had to actually limit participation. But the top wheelchair racers from all over the world came to do it. There's a navy seal that did it twice. The first time he did it, he said it was the toughest thing he ever had to do. His eyes bug getting to Hell Week and everything. He said, “This was Hell Week every day.” And finally, towards the end, we altered the course, shortened it, put it on a different route, sending it to Seward, just to Seward. But it was a very expensive thing to put on because you had five breaks, five legs, five-night over. You had to have med teams following the group, and massage teams following it. And it took all of Challenge Alaska staff, of which weren't very many people. But other summer programs suffered for a few weeks. And it just got to be at a point we did have a wonderful sponsor for a number of years, but then, the economy crashing and everything, it just went downhill. Something that may be resurrected, but it's going to take a lot of time for that to happen.


Scott Allen  41:34  

Yeah. But the story of the lives that have been changed, the purpose that has kind of sparked in individuals because of this outlet, that's leadership. We need to make a difference; there's an opportunity here, we can. And I'm going to put some of the videos that are on YouTube about Challenge Alaska. They're incredible. And the difference it's made in families' lives and in these athletes' lives, it's incredible.


Doug Keil  42:06  

Many people look at these types of programs from an emotional standpoint. It's a nice touchy-feely type of thing. Well, I approached it from the standpoint of economics. You have a family; one person in the family is disabled or becomes disabled. Let's say the family all skied together. Now, that person is a paraplegic, and they're not skiing as a family or an amputation, or what have you. A family member feels left out; other family members can harbor some sort of resentment or guilt that they go skiing and their brother or sister can't. It was always the premise that if the disabled person could learn how to ski down at the mountain, with the family there, skiing with them, or while they're learning, go ski the other mountain. But they're all there as a family and are able, at the end of the day, to either go to the cabin, or wherever they're staying, or go home, but have this positive wind in their moment that they see the joy, they see the spark that the person may not have had since their traumatic experience and a look of hope. I don't think; I know that a healthy body and healthy mind can kickstart somebody into an area of study that they hadn't thought about before. And now, they're excited about going back to school; even though they're disabled, they've got some skin in the game. And what we saw happening down in the Alyeska area were more and more people purchasing small cabins or condos, and those small cabins and some of those condos became accessible. And so, you saw this whole chain reaction of families coming down with somebody with a disability, staying in a place that now is accessible, spending money at the restaurants. The whole economic bit kicked in. That was my main focus and argument against the touchy-feely thing. We had enough touchy-feely stuff. We have Special Olympics up here. Why don't you join Special Olympics? Because I am not developmentally disabled. And every amputee, paraplegic, whatever I would talk to you, said, “I’m not getting on the ‘Special O’ bus when I'm not developmentally disabled.” And, in today's world, look, I'm telling you, things are triable. I'm a paraplegic, I don't ski with blind skiers; those are the comments that I would hear. But leadership, in my opinion, leadership today is needed now more than ever. And leadership, just in common sense, would be refreshing.


Scott Allen  45:46  

Mmm. Oh, I was just going to say several times on the podcast that, in conversations with folks, the pragmatism. How do we align, have dialogue, and keep -- what's the word I'm looking for -- the country in mind? 


Dough Keil  46:06  

Well, yeah.


Scott Allen  46:09  

Right? What's best for the country, and how do we come together and have dialogue, and be pragmatic about that work together and serving the American people in this case? 


Doug Keil  46:21  

And be civil for crying out loud. I was reading a book. I don't know if Socrates or Plato, but it was one of those guys that developed the word ‘the middle class.’ I didn't know it was that old. He said, “The only people that we can count on is the middle class of Greece because the farmer, there’s the person that pays taxes, there's the person that's stable, and family works together, this, that.” You have the poor, you have the very rich, but it's the middle class paying the taxes for the wars we are having in Greece.” Victor David Hansen in his book ‘The Dying Citizen,’ it’s in the first chapter where he talks about where the word ‘citizen’ comes from. I didn't realize the term ‘middle class’ comes from there, but we digress. The thing about leadership is some are natural leaders and stand up right away, but there are those hidden leaders that are quiet, introspective objectors and sit back and listen and watch. And it's those quiet leaders that we need to tap into because you always have somebody who will jump up and say, “Me, me, me.” Are they the right ‘me’ for this particular thing? You know what I mean?


Scott Allen  48:03  

Well. And are they the person who's saying, ‘We, we, we,” versus, “Me, me, me?” (Exactly)


Doug Keil  48:07  

Exactly. Doug used to have a number, or whatever we'll call the DWI, which was always the term for driving while intoxicated. But in terms of me, it was Doug's Wild Ideas. I didn't have that thought, but I devised a sailing program. But the one thing that I mentioned to you in an email that I found fascinating and helped me a great deal to find, once again, wind in my hair. For some crazy reason, I bought a tandem bicycle, thinking my wife could ride up front and steer, and then, I would ride and back and participate and push. Well, the bike I got was a Schwinn racing bike. It was very heavy, and there was no way she was strong enough to take... So, my best friend was in town, living near at the time. And he and I got quite good on this. But it took at least a week or so of communication. The guy up front is the one steering, setting the pace. The person back is just a Remora. They're all on the bike, and they're pedaling, but they don't have any say. Unfortunately, that's not teamwork. And Kurt had to learn from me when my leg was tired, I would say, “Coast.” So then, we’d coast. Otherwise, he just keeps going. Or when we come to a stop, he would lean to the left. I don't have an arm and leg, so when I lean to the left, I fall off the bike. 


Scott Allen  50:06  

That’s not good.


Doug Keil  50:07  

Yeah. So, it’s like, “Okay, coast, stop, lean to the right.” I would have to do these commands verbally. And then, I started to say to myself, “You know, this would be a really good team-building exercise.”


Scott Allen 50:22  

It would be.


Doug Keil  50:24  

For husbands or wives. And then, the BWI kicked in. You need somebody who's going to sit in the back and not tell you what to do, but trust the driver. And that was blind. And when we started the program with the Center for the Blind, where a blind person could actually go on a bike ride on the bike trails in Anchorage. Get out, and do something they haven't done before in a healthy way. And it was a smash hit. It just was so great. And our instructors had to be blindfolded as well and learn how to do it blindfolded. It became just a really popular thing. And then, I started skiing, I mean, sailing. I started sailing the 34-foot boat, and I learned on a 19-foot boat. And it saved my life, really, until I had an accident and I had to sell the boat. I kind of lost my head for a while. I wanted to tell you about a book I think meant a lot to me. It might have something in here that, if I could read it, might be in terms of leadership or finding your purpose. It's written by a gentleman called David McNally. Can you see that?


Scott Allen  51:58  

I can see it. Yeah. “Even Eagles need a push.” I love it.


Doug Keil  52:01  

Right. Okay. There's something in here about the power of purpose. “The power of purpose can certainly bring you fame and fortune. The real treasure, however, lies much more in how it enriches your life. The power of your purpose will help you access the only power that really matters. The confidence to move forward, risk, and live the life you've imagined for yourself with the security that, no matter the obstacles along the way, you know you can handle them. It is a power that emanates from the deepest part of you, and there is not a human being alive within whom this power does not exist.”


Scott Allen  52:51  

Love it.


Doug Keil  52:52  

That is page number 50. Another part, “There exists a longing to leave a legacy within each of us, some proof that we were here. We need to know that our lives are important and that somehow, being here matters. We can attempt to stifle or ignore this desire, but we can't escape it. As humans, we are distinguished and defined by it. Ernest Becker stated, ‘What we fear is not so much extinction, but extinction within significance.’ It is an unwarranted fear, for as nature creates nothing superfluous, it equips us with what we need to leave our legacy; the creative power of human intelligence. The primary purpose of this intelligence is to create something of value, to accomplish something worthwhile. The evidence of this is in the evolution of our species. Where civilization stands today is the culmination of numerous creative acts by those who use their intelligence to improve the quality of human existence.”


Scott Allen  54:10  

Wow. Well, Doug, to close out today, I'm going to read something back to you. This was in Senator Dan Sullivan's ‘Alaskan Of The Week’ speech. And he ended by saying, “So Doug, thank you for saving lives. Thank you for your inspiration to so many. Thank you for what you've done for Alaska; Challenge Alaska for the states, for the Paralympian athletes who are going to watch and cheer in a couple of weeks. And congratulations on being Alaskan of the week.” And you know what? Leadership. You have made a difference in so many people's lives. That's the definition of leadership. And, for me, it was such a pleasure to you last summer and learn about your story. And so, I say thank you.


Doug Keil  55:04  

I really appreciate the opportunity. To those out there listening to this podcast, I have a saying that I have on my card; visionaries, act. Everyone else just daydreams. 


Scott Allen  55:23  

(Laughs) I love it.


Doug Keil  55:25  

So, just do something. And, Scott, I really appreciate you offering me this opportunity. And, as I said to you as we were talking outside at my dad's place, you do an incredible thing. And someday, when I'm able to travel without having to find a doctor to bandage things up, I'd love to be able to come to an event or to where you are and spend more time.


Scott Allen  55:54  

Yes. Okay. It's a deal. It’s a deal. Thank you, sir. 


Doug Keil  55:59  

Thank you.


Scott Allen  56:00

Thank you so much for being with me. Okay.



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