Two days after the race in La Plagne, France, I posted on my Facebook page that the fog had finally lifted — that I was starting to feel like myself again. I felt like I was coming out of a dense cloud that had surrounded me for weeks since Koenigssee, that I hadn’t been myself or even been close, but I was coming out of it, I was coming back. I headed to Igls excited for the week ahead and optimistic that it’d be a good one.
Igls is a track I traditionally struggle on. Yes, I’ve won medals there but I’ve never been particularly fast. That sounds strange, so let me explain. Igls is probably the easiest bobsled track in the world. It is a track they use a lot to teach people how to drive bobsleds. Everyone knows how to drive that track and most people drive it really well, regardless of how long you’ve been driving. It’s the type of track where you’ll see a driver who’s only been driving for two years beat out veterans who’ve been driving for eight! It’s also known as a starters track; because it’s so short, it’s hard to catch people with a fast start and usually the fastest starters win the race. However, I have always been one of the fastest, if not the fastest, starter and have never won a race there. I have actually gotten beat quite handily. For some reason, my start speed never seemed to carry me down the track like others. Igls always appeared to be a mystery to me — I didn’t understand why I wasn’t fast there, but with world championships there in 2016, I had to figure it out, and this week would be the first step in doing just that.
From La Plagne, France, to Igls, Austria, is about a nine-hour drive. We normally drive over as a group, four people to each car, and this trip I was riding with Cherrelle, Jamie and Lauren. I didn’t drive any of the trip, but towards the end I started feeling bad. I put in my headphones to listen to classical music and tried to relax. Once we had finally arrived to Igls, I ate some dinner and went to bed, hoping some sleep was the best medicine.
I woke up the next morning feeling even worse. My throat was sore, I was coughing up mucus, I was congested and the pressure inside my head was horrible. I was sick — head-cold sick. I had finally started to come out of the clouds and now I had a head cold. I took some medicine, which helped relieve some of the symptoms, and headed to the track for the first day of training.
The first day of training went well. Despite my cold, I was fast on the track — something that’s pretty rare for me, especially in training. I didn’t know what I had done differently, but I was optimistic that maybe I could figure this track out. The second run of the day went well also, so even though I had no idea what was different from this year to last, something seemed to be clicking. We packed up the sleds and headed back to the hotel.
The next day I wouldn’t be as fast, and it was clear that I still had some things to figure out. The good news was that my teammates, Jamie and Jazmine, have always been fast in Igls and have always driven the track well, so I could learn quite a bit from seeing their lines. It can sometimes be difficult to have such a large team with all different personalities and goals, but at times like this, it’s really nice to be able to see other people do exactly what you’re trying to do and do it well, to serve as an example. Despite not having the best training runs, I was confident that with the help of our coaching staff I would be able to figure it out by race day.
Each training week you are allowed six official training runs. Because of my recovery from Koenigssee, I hadn’t had a full training week of six runs yet. In Igls, I was hopeful that I would be able to take all six runs leading into the race. Unfortunately, I was wrong. After the second day of training, my cold continued to worsen. My head felt like it was being squeezed by a vice. I was coughing nonstop and had trouble sleeping. Cherrelle, my roommate, even rolled over in the middle of the night and asked me if I was OK, and for someone who’s usually a sound sleeper, this meant my coughing was pretty loud. I woke up the next morning still coughing, but felt as though I still had some work to do on the track, so loaded up my sled and headed out for training.
At the track I had the worst training run I had had all week, or even in years. I hit every wall possible on the way down. As much as I desperately wanted to fix my mistakes and take another run, after talking with the coaches they told me it wasn’t in my best interest and that I’d be good for the race even though the run was horrible, and that it was best for me to head back and rest up. Every part of me wanted to take another run and figure the track out, but I knew it would be a bad idea. We loaded up the sled and headed back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow’s race.
After another night of hardly sleeping, I woke up tired and still coughing up a storm. As nervous as I was for the race and for my driving, all I could focus on was how I felt and trying to feel as good as possible. I was racing with Lauryn Williams this week, and she had done everything to make sure I would feel great, including making me this tea made from ginger, garlic, honey and lemon. I chugged as much tea as possible with the hope of feeling good for the race, and the tea helped, but I was still struggling a bit; however, I had a job to do. There was no time to get worked up in how I felt. The race was here and I was going to conquer this track.
I went off early in the first heat and was happy with my run. I was 0.07 behind a German sled, but Lauryn and I had pushed well and I was very happy with my drive, one of my best trips on this track. I had a few things to clean up, but overall I knew I was driving well today. Still coughing, I headed back to the top of the track for the second run.
Back at the top of the track, I tried to rest up as much as possible. I put in my headphones, again to classical music, and blocked out the rest of the world. I reviewed my lines with the coaches and prepared for the second heat. I knew I would be satisfied with a good run, regardless of the finish. I warmed up briefly, and the second heat started.
We were the second to last sled to go off. Normally, I’m pretty nervous, but this time I was confident. I knew I could put together another good run and have a shot to win the race. We started off the block, loaded into the sled and I started to drive. I can’t remember much from the drive, but I knew I felt on. I felt like I could put my sled where I wanted it and I was doing it. I got out at the bottom of the track, hugged Lauryn and was happy with my performance today. We headed over to the leader’s box to watch the final sled come down the track, the German sled, to see if we would win.
And win we did! We won! We won on what I feel is one of my more difficult tracks to be fast. As soon as I saw that we had posted the fastest time down, Lauryn and I threw our hands in the air in celebration. Although I coughed through the entire flower ceremony celebrating the top three finishers, I was giddy inside. We had won on a track that I’m not particularly good on and had come from behind to do it. I was elated and wanted to enjoy this win as much as possible. Although my Altenberg win was big, this for me was another big one. I have traditionally struggled in Igls, but today I nailed it. I drove well, we pushed well and we walked away with the win. As much as I wanted to live it up, there wasn’t much time. We were headed to Sochi next, which presented an entirely different set of challenges…