As I sit here in Sochi, I can’t help but think about what happened a year ago. Yes, I’m back in Sochi, as we have our final world cup race of the season at the same track where I won a silver medal. The track is the same (minus some ice variations from year to year), but the feelings are all different.
Arriving at the track for the first time I was filled with anxiety. You see, I won a silver medal, but when you are leading the race for three runs — in that gold medal position for three out of the four runs — and lose by 0.10 of a second, you feel like you lost the gold. I know exactly where I made my mistakes during that run, I know exactly what I did, and coming back to drive the track brought on a mix of feelings, from being determined to fix my mistakes to fearing that I would make the same mistakes, like a “groundhog day” bobsled edition.
All the memories flooded back into my mind as I walked up the track the first day, and as much as I feel as though I’ve lost out on the gold, there are many special things about Sochi I will never forget.
Sochi was my first Olympics as a driver. I’ve been in bobsled now for eight years, but Sochi was going to test me more than Vancouver had when I competed as a brakeman. I made sure coming into Sochi that I was prepared, I had the perfect sled, I had three great possible brakemen to race with, I had a great coaching staff, great med staff, even my sports psych. I was ready to go. Everything was in place. I had an exact plan. I was completely prepared. And then everything went crazy…
The Olympics were difficult, yes, but through so much adversity I learned so much more. One of the greatest moments of the Olympics for me came out of what I thought was going to be the worst. We (Lauryn Williams and I) had finished a training run with a crazy fast time and were going over a second faster than we had the previous day, which was exciting. As we crossed the finish line, we came roaring through the braking stretch (the part where the brakeman stop the sled) and the sled was not slowing down.
As Lauryn pulled the brakes, we hit something in the outrun and the sled turned. As much as I tried to steer the sled away, it was no use and the sled ran — T-boned actually — the short wall. My head went flying into the front of my sled, and pieces of my sled flew splintering into the air. I knew something was wrong immediately. I sprinted up the track to tell then-head coach Todd Hays what happened. The front runners (what actually touches the ice) were completely through the front of the sled and were not facing the proper direction. As I told this to Coach Hays, panicked and breathless from the running, he couldn’t believe what I was saying. He called our mechanics and they all headed down to see the damage.
As everyone approached the sled, I’m sure they had to think I was exaggerating, but then their faces told a different story. This damage was massive. At this point all I could think about was that my Olympics were over, there’s no way they can fix this sled in time — I won’t be able to race in the Olympics, the race I’ve worked so hard for. Winning a medal was the furthest thing from my mind. I left the scene of the crime, the pieces of my sled scattered everywhere, and head up to the top of the track to let the mechanics do their work. Once at the top, I immediately called my mom and cried uncontrollably into the phone (this was definitely one of those situations where you just need your mom).But the mechanics, Richard Laubenstein, David Cripps and Cheech Garde, were up for the task. With the help of our manager, Lenny Kasten, they were able to take the sled that was in USA House for display (this sled was actually a racing sled, however, and is still being raced to this day) and have it shipped up to the track and used it for spare parts. They worked all day and night to rebuild my sled. The next morning I came back to the track prepared to be told that it was over, but instead I peaked into my container (the place where we keep our sleds at the Olympics) and saw that BeMoW was back in one piece. As I looked inside, the pieces didn’t seem to align as nicely as before, but the sled was together. We had a chance again.
I’m sure everyone was nervous about this rebuilt sled but no one was as nervous as I was. Was this going to work? Was it going to be fast? Would I be able to drive? All these thoughts and more ran through my head. I trusted our mechanics, but this was a complete sled rebuild in a night. Can we be sure it was going to work? Despite any questions I had, the time to slide had come and there was only one way to go — down. And down we went, we pushed off the start, loaded and came down with the fastest training run of the day. Not only had the sled been completely rebuilt, but it was as good as new!
I came back to the top of the track and was immediately greeted by our mechanics and the coaches with hugs and kisses. It’s at this moment that I thought I would lose it again, but this time crying for a different reason. They had rebuilt my sled and given me a new chance to dream an Olympic dream, and for that I would forever be grateful. They had made winning an Olympic medal possible and for that there is nothing I can do to ever repay them.
So now that I sit in Sochi, about to compete in my final world cup of the 2014-2015 season, I have a new perspective on my Olympic silver medal. It’s not about the medal, what color it is or what the difference to gold was, it’s about the journey and those who were there with me to take it.
At the end of the day, WE won this medal. I may have been in the driver’s seat, but it was a complete team effort. This medal will always hold a special place in my heart because it truly exemplifies what can be accomplished with the help of a team. It also reminds me that there are people out there who are willing to do whatever it takes to help you accomplish your dreams, even if they’re Olympic-sized.
Medals are won by families, and not families in the traditional sense (although they can’t be won without traditional families too), but by the family you are surrounded with day in and day out — in this case my bobsled family. Although Lauryn and I will have the hardware, WE did this, WE won a silver medal. Thanks for the memories, Sochi.