People often describe bobsledding like being kicked off a cliff in a trashcan...
It is amazing how many thoughts can race through your head in a minute. It took me a second to catch my breath, after pushing a heavy object for 50 meters while simultaneously trying not to trip, hurt myself and actually get in the sled. I was experiencing severe sensory overload. It was loud and the sled was making this clunking noise but Elena didn’t seem too worried about it; since she holds two Olympic medals, I decided to pretend not to notice as well.
Something did feel off though, I mean, besides the fact that we were flying down an extremely narrow icy track in what felt like a tin can. But I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Not until I realized that Elana was frantically nudging my feet with her elbows, and then it hit me! When I hopped into the sled, instead of placing my feet on the foot pegs, I had wrapped my feet around her waste and out of sheer terror was squeezing them together. I quickly repositioned my feet right as we were going into the first curve… oops! If I had to make a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to bobsled, death gripping your pilot with your legs while they are trying to get you down the track safely would be pretty high up on the list.
I remember the first few corners feeling manageable. I kept thinking to myself, “you can do anything for a minute”. That was until we came out of corner three ― SMACK. The left side of the sled hit the wall (I now know that, that “tap” out of three is normal). Before I had time to process what had happened and panic, we were into the next corner and the front of my helmet hit the brake handles at the bottom of the sled. Then the G-forces hit. It took my breath away as I felt like I was getting pushed from behind and folded in half. I tried to fight it for a split second before giving up; my body felt like putty melting into the sled. The G-forces let up just in time for us to enter the section of the track, which is appropriately named the Devil’s Highway. By this point it felt like we were flying! The turns came quickly, back and forth, back and forth. They came so quickly I couldn’t tell left from right. My head whipped violently from side to side. In a panic, I clenched down on my mouth guard and held my breath. As I began to run out of air, I went to take a deep breath only to be met with more G-Forces as we entered curve 10, Shady 2. My entire body tensed as I realized that we were on that HUGE curve with the words “Lake Placid” written across it. I still was not convinced that the sled wasn’t going to fall off the wall and out of the track; I have a very vivid imagination.
We made it through Shady 2 and were into the labyrinth which felt just like the Devil’s Highway. As my head was again tossed back in forth, I thought to myself, “this is the longest minute of my life”. Then it got quiet, and I felt weightless. Just as I thought to myself, “maybe it’s over”, we took a HUGE left and my head was once again glued to the bottom of the sled. At that point I gave up trying to figure out where we were. Just when I thought the ride was never going to end, I felt Elana nudge my helmet. I looked up and she was waving her left hand. That was the sign to let the sled go and to not touch the breaks. I had survived my first ride down the Lake Placid track; I felt a rush of adrenaline surge through my body. I simultaneously felt, relief, excitement and confusion. I was still overwhelmed by what had just experienced. The sled began to slow as it made its way up the breaking stretch. I could see track workers and USA Bobsled staff standing on the finishing dock awaiting my reaction. I put my hands up in the air and let out a scream of relief and maybe a few expletives!
My celebration was cut short as I heard Elena, still with her helmet on, yelling at me to get out of the sled. I was confused; the sled was still moving. I quickly realized she had hopped out and was pushing the sled with me still in it up the end of the breaking stretch. The sled didn’t have enough speed to make it to the finish dock. Sitting in the sled celebrating while your pilot pushes you up a very steep outrun would also be on the top of the “don’ts” list. As I hopped out to help push the sled to the rest of the way, one of the track workers had made his way down to help us. We got it to the top and flipped the sled on its side, slid the sled backwards on the bunks onto the finish dock.
Before I could get my bearings, there was a camera in my face, Ashley Walden (Director of Internal Operations for USABS) wanting to know what I thought. I may or may not have blacked out at that point. I tried to make sense of what had just happened. I was feeling incredibly incoherent. After the quick interview, we had to get the sled flipped over and moved out of the way as the next sled had made its way down the track.
It was incredible how quickly they were able to clear the track and get the the next sled down. I ripped my helmet off my head and pulled my slobber-filled mouth guard out as I tried to catch my breath. I am not sure if I was more out of breath from the thrill ride or from pushing the sled uphill at the end. We loaded the sled on to the truck to head back up to the start (that was after I accidentally dropped it, also not advised). I was done for the day, but Elana had one more run to take with another rookie. The goal was to get all the rookies down the track to see who could take the ride and who would run for the hills. As we pulled up to the loading dock, I could see a group of rookies nervously awaiting my reaction. I let out a squeal and proclaimed, “That was (insert expletive) AWESOME! “
I was hooked...
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