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Sports a way of life for talented Aherns

Devon O'Neilsummit daily news
Devon O'Neilsummit daily news
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Finding a bee that hates honey would be easy, cake, like outsprinting a one-armed turtle – compared to finding an Ahern that doesn’t like sports.This family lives and breathes sports. If humans didn’t need sleep, you’d probably see a whole group of Aherns outside at night, running and hiking and skiing through darkness, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world was huddled inside reading.Ever since the family arrived in Breckenridge by way of Iowa and Denver, in 1963, the High Country outdoors has been as much their home as their actual house. Perhaps even more so, in fact.”I just grew up pretty involved in athletics, skiing in particular, and when you do things like that you eventually get your kids involved,” says Kevin Ahern.

Kevin, he’s the dad. Before that, he was the second oldest of the five kids that were the first generation of Aherns to be raised in Summit. Some may know him as Ski Patrol Director at the Breckenridge Ski Resort, which he’s been for 16 years, but that’s only his profession – as in, he professes it to be his passion.”Yeah, skiing is our family’s main sport,” he says, glumly, as if he’s telling you he likes oxygen (or something else too obvious to require a mention).The Aherns have three kids: Ryan, 22, Kelly, 20, and Kyle, 18. All are athletes, and all are damn good at what they do.Going oldest to youngest, Ryan helped the Summit High School ski team win the state title as a sophomore. He is currently entering his senior year at Western State in Gunnison, where he skis for the highly competitive Mountaineers nordic program. Kelly also was a member of Western’s nordic program, but is transferring to Northern Michigan for her junior year. She was an all-conference soccer player at Summit High before becoming a standout college skier. Kyle, the baby, left a trail of honors sure to sustain the Ahern name until the next generation makes its mark: He earned first team all-state honors as both a classic and freestyle nordic skier the past two winters, and helped the Tiger boys win two straight state skiing championships.How does one in the dark bring these accolades to light? Intensive prodding. It’s your only hope.

“We’re a really shy family,” says Kelly.Indeed. You get the impression the Aherns would rather you feed them to a mountain lion than expose their successes. Maybe not really… but they are modest to say the least.The tradition of noteworthy athletic achievement began in Kevin’s generation. A top high school skier, Kevin competed in alpine, nordic and jumping while at Summit High. He took third at the national championships in his best season.His brother Pat went even further. As many in Summit know, Pat won a spot at the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, where he competed in nordic combined and brought a good deal of fame to his tiny hometown.Matt Dayton, who also grew up in Breckenridge and went on to compete in nordic combined at the 2002 Park City Olympics, says watching Pat succeed in skiing was his inspiration.

“Just seeing him ski,” says Dayton. “It made me want to be where he was.”Unlike Kevin, Pat no longer calls Summit home – but with good reason. He now lives in Ridgway, and leads the small ski patrol unit at ultra-steep Silverton Mountain, where he also directs avalanche control. He welcomed his first child, baby boy Cooper, just over a week ago.Athleticism was not solely confined to the male side of that Ahern generation, however. Formerly Kathy Ahern, Pat and Kevin’s sister, Kathy Neel, still lives in Breckenridge and competes regularly in local citizen’s races. Her son Patrick is a budding nordic ski star at Summit High (shocking, right?), where he’ll be a junior this fall.Yet despite the widespread swath of sports-crazy family members that is now spread all over, the nucleus remains under the roof of Kevin and Patty Ahern. Yes, Patty is the mom. Although not the competitive type, she’s out there just as often as her husband and kids, hiking and cross-country skiing on trails around the High Country. She also fills a different, balancing role by pushing the importance of academics on her children. And it works; both Ryan and Kelly were Academic All-Americans last year at Western.

With all the focus on sports, and the horror stories that you’ve read at some point or another, you get to thinking of a potential burnout in the latest generation. Could it hap-?No. Not here. These are smart kids – they know how lucky they are to be Aherns.”We wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Kelly.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.


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