The Convergent Components of Life
BY Veronica Day
This story takes place in the spring of 2007 and seemingly, has nothing to do with skeleton. Little did I know, it would just be the first of many experiences in my life as an elite athlete.
I was a senior in high school and the school year was about to wrap up. I had spent the whole year checking off every formulaic experience a high school senior is supposed to partake in. June was quickly approaching, testing was done and only a few things remained. The biggest were the district, regional and state track meets, prom and graduation. There was just one slight problem. Two of these fell on the same day.
Every year, prom and the state track meet shared a Saturday, and every year my team drove three hours south to Newport News, Virginia to compete. But I knew the drill. As a long and triple jumper, I figured I would be finished early on Saturday morning (hopefully after some solid performances) and I would have my parents drive me back home so that I would make it in time for the pre-prom festivities. A cumbersome process, but entirely do-able. And I wasn’t about to skip States in order to make sure that hair looked extra perfect. My date, Drew, asked me to prom knowing all of this.
At the Regional track meet, my 4x400m relay team entered the fastest heat as the slowest seed. We all wanted to go to States but knew that it would be a tough battle for that third qualifying spot. I had already qualified for the Long Jump and won the Triple Jump, securing a trip to Newport News for the final time. But the 4x400… that was the real battle.
If you have never done track before, let me explain something to you about the 4x400. It is always… without fail…the last event at any track meet. Dead. Last. After sunburns, delays and countless heats, everyone just wants to get in their car and go home. Except you can’t, because there’s one event left. That one event that weighs on you all day. The most exhausting. The one that makes you the most anxious. The 4x400m relay. Let me make one thing clear. No one actually likes running the 4x400.
In retrospect, the 400 was probably not the best event for me in high school but I ran it anyway. I was a glutton for punishment and every time I stepped on the track to run it, I saw it as a test. In the last 100 meters of any race, my head generally filled with thoughts along these lines: When is this going to end? Why am I running this again? Should have done the 100. I think I’m going to die. Aaaaaand I’m done!
Fast forward six years and I can’t say I’m too sad about awkwardly sprinting in a downright position for 40 meters and diving onto a sled.
Our team fully planned on running a smart race and giving our best effort at sneaking into States. It was a long shot, but we thought that we could pull it off. It turned out we ran the race of our lives. Each of us gave all we had, in a come from behind victory.
After four more years of track in college, a number of honors, titles and championships, this 4x400m relay race is still one of my fondest memories. I know it’s only a high school track meet. But in the end, it was one of the most exciting and unpredictable moments of my athletic career.
That’s kind of strange when you consider what I do now. I willingly decide to careen, headfirst, at 80mph down an icy abyss. Part of the reason I enjoy skeleton as much as I do, is because I get to feel the same emotions I did in this race. It’s an adrenaline rush. You think you know what’s coming and attempt to prepare for it. But really, there’s only so much you can do and how you compete is dependent upon how you respond in threatening situations.
After the race I called Drew and told him that we had qualified for States in the 4x400m. He had no idea what that meant. I explained to him that it was the final event of the day and I would still be 3 hours away when he was starting to meet people for pictures. He took it pretty well. I told him I wanted to be back in time for the dance, but I just didn’t know when I would actually arrive. He’d have to fly solo for the first half of prom. I could be the worst date ever.
In the week leading up to the state track meet and prom, I had to think of some way to make this right with Drew. Short of inventing a teleporting machine, the best solution I could come up with was to make a cardboard cutout of myself. I gave it to Drew a few days before we left for Newport News. He used it for the hundreds of pictures that were taken that afternoon. It was a hit and I was in two places at once… well, kind of.
I competed at states and gathered All-State honors. We took a few pictures and I hopped in my parent’s van to get home. I was terrified of hitting traffic on I-95. The DC metropolitan area is honored with literally the worst traffic in the entire country and we were driving right into it. The number of times a 30 minute commute has turned into 2 hours of pure misery is far greater than I care to remember. But luckily, my dad (who is a stickler for rules) set his cruise control higher than he will ever admit and we avoided all traffic.
I showered quickly, did my makeup and hair in record time (which honestly, probably isn’t that fast) and found out where my friends were. They were still at dinner and had just gotten their food. I walked in and sat down like I had been there the whole time. The evening went off without a hitch and I mentally crossed off 2 more events from my senior year checklist.
So why did I just tell you this long winded story? My point is, that we all make sacrifices. As I have gotten older, I have watched my friends start exciting careers, move to exotic places, make great money and get engaged. Sometimes it makes me question why I do this sport. I want those things for myself. Many would consider skeleton a risky investment of my time. It is not necessarily conducive to “checking off” any of those aforementioned life events.
The thing is, I really enjoy sliding and believe that I can be successful. The grey skies can drag on and the season can be a rollercoaster, but in the end I love staring down into turn 1 and feeling the adrenaline rush when I dive on my sled. I am a firm believer that my regular life and skeleton can co-exist. But at this point, skeleton takes priority to everything else and as a result, other aspects can suffer. You just need to be creative when solving complicated situations. There was not one second that I thought to myself I hope we don’t qualify in this 4x400m relay. We worked hard all season and came out to win as an underdog. I made it to prom (albeit, late) and managed to give my date a good laugh along the way.
Many times I have to stop myself from looking at skeleton and my life as black and white. One or the other. Heads or tails. It’s not a choice between this one or that one. Thinking like that can really drain you. It’s easy to get down and feel unfulfilled because you can’t find a job, you’re always broke, and you have a limited personal life. Nothing really seems practical because you spend half the year travelling around the world to do this thing which you might never be good at. Skeleton is all about being patient and working hard- just like life. I am confident in my decision to dedicate myself and assume the long term risk. Life doesn’t follow a different path, and things will work out. I remind myself that the two are not mutually exclusive and that when life takes a back seat, it does not necessarily mean that it is taking no seat.
Veronica Day and her roommate joked that they were going to try out for the bobsled team after graduating from college. While Day didn't become a bobsledder, she did find her way onto a skeleton sled in 2011. Since then, she's impressed the coaching staff with blistering start times and is one of the development program's up-and-coming athletes to watch. Day has a long list of accomplishments as a track and field athlete. She is a three-time Southern Conference Champion, nine-time All-Conference honoree, Southern Conference Field Athlete of the Year, and recipient of the Stein H. Basnight Most Outstanding Athlete Award by Elon University. Learn more about Day by visiting her blog, Frost Bitten Follies.
*Athlete blog entries are the sole opinion of each individual author and may not be representative of the USBSF or its athletes.