Former Israeli World Cup racer landed in Vail Valley to attend college
EDWARDS — Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and Ronnie Kiek is both.
Kiek is an Israeli national ski team slalom specialist, who is now a studying specialist.
“Nothing is obvious in life. Every good thing in life should never be taken for granted,” Kiek said. “I can’t believe that I’m here. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”
She loved the Vail Valley so much when she competed in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, she decided to leave the World Cup circuit to call it home.
“For me, it’s a dream come true,” she said. “I feel so honored and lucky to be here.”
Not your typical freshman
Priorities change and Kiek’s focus shifted from ski racing to studying. She’s living with Sharon Kushner’s family and studying biology at Colorado Mountain College. Her educational aim is to become a physical therapist.
Like any other college freshman.
But not really.
Kiek is 23 years old, a World Cup skier, and served two years in the Israeli army. She didn’t see combat, but could, at some point, if Israel needs her.
She was raised in Tel Aviv and her native language is Hebrew, which can create the occasional language challenge in class. But for Kiek, nothing is insurmountable. She is earning straight A’s in her first semester.
“She’s as dedicated to studying as she is to skiing and ski racing,” Kushner said.
During last year’s World Championships, Israeli ski team members stayed with B’nai Vail Congregation members.
“We couldn’t imagine how close we would become,” Kushner said.
When the team walked into a B’Nai Vail service, 200 people erupted with cowbells and cheers, most sporting yarmulkes bearing the American and Israeli flags.
Kiek told the congregation about being a fighter, both literally and metaphorically. Her family members survived the Holocaust and she’s a military veteran.
“Her speech was so moving and inspiring. Not only did she become enamored with the B’nai Vail community, the community became enamored with her,” Kushner said.
“When I came here, I fell in love with the people and the community. For me it has been a dream to combine skiing with my studying. When I came here and heard about CMC, everything clicked,” she said. “I have never felt something like that, where the Jewish community came together with such warmth and support.”
Work is worth it
When she decided to become a ski racer, she said she knew what she’d have to give up to chase that dream.
“If you are willing to work and to fight, there is no limit to what you can accomplish,” she said.
Kiek made it clear she wanted to return and attend college, so Kushner began the B’Nai Vail scholarship fund. So far, so good, but they’re still taking donations, Kushner said.
“She’s as dedicated to studying as she is to ski racing and training,” Kushner said.
The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships were her third world championships, and, as far as she is concerned, far and away the best.
“It was so well organized and the volunteers were so good,” she said. “It was the best by far.”
From Mount Hermon
Kiek started skiing when she was 6 years old on Mount Hermon, the only ski mountain in Israel.
Climate change has changed things, and there are only about two weeks of snow each year, if that.
Her dad, also named Hermon, grew up in Holland and skied in Germany. When he knew snow was coming to Mount Hermon, he scooped up his sleeping daughter around 3 a.m., put her in the back of the car and drove the four hours from Tel Aviv while she slept.
“We were always the first ones in line when the gate came up and they let us in,” Kiek said.
Ski racing followed when she was 12 years old, and she earned a spot on Israel’s national team and the World Cup circuit when she was 16.
“He never thought I would take it to this level,” Kiek said laughing. “If he did, he said he would have taken me to the swimming pool instead.”
Like everyone who loves skiing, her pulse races a little faster when a big snowstorm hits. Still …
“I can’t wait for summer,” she said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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VAIL — The lift operator in the maze at Vail Village’s Gondola One tilts his head back and hollers: “Masks up please!”