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'Extreme' uphill battle

Skateboarder overcomes broken back to return to racing
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Unlike the relatively tame sports he also plays, Keith Henderson’s favorite sport is one that involves gravity and extreme speeds.

He uses aerodynamics to bomb mountain roads and perfect his drafting abilities. The 16-year-old professional skateboarder competes in standup downhill longboarding and classic luge — in what are aptly named “gravity sports.”

He’s gone up to 65 mph, but is always looking to improve his speed and skill.

“I skate as many times a day as I can,” he says.

Sometimes other stuff gets in the way for this Granite Bay High School junior, such as football and wrestling practice and shifts at his dad’s Tactis Sk8 Shop in Loomis.

Starting June 29, Keith Henderson will compete in the Junior World Championships at the famous Maryhill Loops Road in Goldendale, Wash. The event, sanctioned by the International Gravity Sports Association, is part of the five-day Maryhill Festival of Speed.

Competitors from all over the world will strut their stuff, along with Keith — who wasn’t always sure he’d make this tournament.

Keith Henderson has raced in two competitions since recovering from a broken back he suffered from a skateboarding accident in August. But he continues to ride, in part to honor his friend who died in a crash in 2008.

“I ride in his name,” Henderson says.

About seven years ago, he learned how to skateboard from his dad, Daniel Henderson, who rode in the 1970s.

“I grew up in southern California and it’s part of the culture down there,” Daniel Henderson says. “I introduced him to longboarding and he took a shine to it.”

His son has skateboarded in 15 races since he started competing three years ago. As a downhill longboarder, he uses the pull of gravity to pick up as much speed as possible depending on the grade of the hill.

For the luge, he lies down and uses his body weight to change the board’s direction as he navigates a course.

As Keith Henderson continues to advance in the gravity-sports world, he’s picked up sponsors along the way, including Tactis Sk8 Shop, Khiro Skateboard Products, Nitro Bearings and Broframes.

“(I skateboard) with a great crowd of guys and it’s a big adrenaline rush,” Keith Henderson says. “Not very many people want to take the risk. It’s a trust sport as well as an individual sport.”

He knows firsthand about risk.

On Oct. 20, 2008, his friend Peter Ramirez was killed in a tragic skateboarding accident in Loomis when he collided with a truck.

“It was very, very traumatic,” Keith Henderson says.

He saved a pedal from Ramirez’s skateboard, which is displayed at his dad’s shop.

His own skating took a scary turn one day last August when he and his friends went skateboarding at Mosquito Ridge Road in Foresthill. He and another guy collided and his board turned sideways, and he crashed into a wall at 40 mph.

After blacking out, he awoke, stood up and took one step before collapsing. A California Highway Patrol helicopter airlifted him to Sutter Roseville Medical Center. He suffered a broken back, nerve damage and lacerations to his chest and shoulder.

“I was thinking, ‘There goes my football and wresting career, and maybe my skateboarding career,’” Keith Henderson says.

He stayed in the intensive care unit for three days. Doctors predicted he would need eight months to recover, but he improved in about half that time.

“When I was released to do any sport I wanted, the first thing I wanted to do was skateboard,” Keith Henderson says.

He doesn’t think he’ll always be so focused on sports, setting his sights on Purdue University where he hopes to major in chemical engineering or chemistry. In the meantime, he’ll keep skateboarding.

“I’m pretty impressed to see him go through the ranks, especially after his accident,” says Daniel Henderson. “Most kids would be discouraged.”

But not Keith Henderson. He’s just ready for the next big hill to bomb.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series on young people who overcame great odds to do amazing things. Visit www.rosevillept.com for the first article on dancer Dacia Biletnikoff and the second article on martial artist Kate Wilmarth.