Bobsled? How Did You… (10/18/13)

BY BREE SCHAAF


Brochure I was in back in my college volleyball days

Bobsled? How did you get into THAT??

If you’re going to do a sport as obscure as bobsled, the above question is inevitable with every single person we meet (and don’t lie to) about what we do. Ideally you have gotten the answer down to a subconscious reflex, and can turn on the “how you got into bobsled” audio screensaver while your mind wanders to other pending questions, like what protein you want for dinner that night.

John Daly, USA Skeleton team member and former teammate of mine, has it down to a science. As soon as the question is asked, he replies “Ok, are you ready? How I got into skeleton in 30 seconds or less…” and then scoots the conversation right along.

This is the beauty of making a lifestyle out of a dream, especially when that dream involves bombing it off the top of a hill at 80+ mph. It’s anything but normal, and thus a natural curiosity for people. What’s interesting to note, however, is that despite the obscurity of the sport, most of us have quite a similar path to how we got there.

Unlike most mainstream sports, clearly few of us started as a young child with parents shoving us off the top of an icy chute. Luge is the only ice sport in America that we start young, as it takes significantly longer to learn the nuances of navigating a course with such precise steering. Stephen Colbert put it best when he asked my teammate Zach Lund (who started young in luge before switching to skeleton): “Exactly what age were you when your parents first tried to kill you?”

The other factor in recruiting young (besides danger) is athleticism. Accelerating a 400-pound sled from a stand still requires world-class strength and speed. Kids that show that potential cannot be lured away from college scholarships, as it’s neither logical nor ethical. Hey kid—want to trade a free education and everything you’ve worked for up till now for the chance to get beat up in a bobsled and start your credit card debt young?? So almost across the board, even internationally, bobsled is pursued by post-collegiate athletes. Most often it’s an athlete that had their senior college season line up with an Olympics, sparking a new athletic dream as their first one comes to an end.

My story is no different, aside from a little skeleton twist. In the 2002 Salt Lake City Games I saw women’s bobsled make its debut as an Olympic sport. I was just finishing up my senior season playing volleyball at Portland State University in Portland, Ore., and felt a certain unease with moving on from athletics. Knowing I still had years of competition left in my body, you can imagine my excitement when I discovered bobsled as an outlet for a big athletic female! Or so I thought. It turned out that as a 140-pound volleyball player I wasn’t nearly big or strong enough to bobsled, so I followed my brother Tim (who was also inspired by the debut of skeleton in the Salt Lake City Games) into the sport of skeleton. I fell in love with it, but still yearned to join the big kids in bobsled, so after years and years of gaining speed, mass and strength, I finally convinced the bobsled coaches to give me a shot. I’ve never regretted the upgrade to sitting in a recliner, holding actual steering in my hands, and SEEING where I’m going.

So aside from a few local kids that start junior bobsled programs, bobsled is comprised of college graduates that, despite a diploma documenting their intelligence, choose to jump in a sled going 80+ mph with no idea what to expect. Such is how amazing stories are born — ones that we learn to tell in 30 seconds or less!