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Elana Meyers Taylor: Every Day In My Sled Is A Blessing

By Elana Meyers Taylor, Two-Time Olympic Bobsled Medalist | Jan. 31, 2015, 1:07 p.m. (ET)

I absolutely love bobsled and I love driving my sled. Nothing quite compares to the feeling I have in my sled, when the curves are coming at you, the wind whistles in your ears and your hands dance as they maneuver through curves. To me, it’s the closest I will ever feel to a superhero. It’s magical.

Bobsled is known as a sport of second chances — athletes who didn’t make it in their first sport come to bobsled as a last-ditch effort to stay an athlete and become an Olympian. This is my story as well. I wanted to be an Olympian in the sport of softball, but it wasn’t meant to be. It may be a sport of second chances, but for me, I know it was the sport I was meant to compete in my entire life — my only regret is that I didn’t find it sooner.

Why am I going into all of this? If you can understand this about me, the week in St. Moritz, Switzerland, will make a lot more sense. Every day I wake up excited to get in my sled — excited to figure out the puzzle that is combining the correct steers with the perfect timing to maximize speed as I move down the track. I love being in my sled and I’ll do anything to get one more trip, one more training session, one more race. That’s why competing in the four-person competition is so appealing. It gives me another opportunity to test my skills and another day of sliding (four-person races are on Sundays, normally an off day in women’s bobsled).

There’s not much that can keep me out of a bobsled. I’ll gut out anything to get another run; however, St. Moritz presented all new challenges. Still recovering from the crashes in Koenigssee and Altenberg, sliding was a struggle. As much as I wanted to push through it and get back in my sled, it wasn’t happening. I needed to recover, yet I yearned to be in my sled. 

Decisions had to be made, keeping in mind the end of the season and the upcoming world championships. World championships is the biggest and most important event in our sport next to the Olympics. It’s important to be at your peak mentally and physically for this event. Before the world championships, however, we have eight world cup races, and this year I had even more races on lower circuits to qualify for the four-man discipline — needless to say I’ve raced a lot.

In order to be at your best during the world championships, you have to continue to train throughout the season, but most importantly stay healthy. For me, this was the consideration that had to be taken into place for the week of the St. Moritz World Cup. Would I do everything I could to win the race or would I do the best I can trying to recover even if it means taking a loss?

I absolutely love St. Moritz! The track is the only all-natural track in the world, rebuilt out of snow and ice each and every year. As such, the track changes and every year is a new process of trying to figure out the proper steers. Two years ago, I won a silver medal on this track in world championships, after which my husband proposed, so needless to say St. Moritz holds a special place in my heart. I was excited to slide here again, remember all the good times and also test out my four-person skills, but then Koenigssee happened.

After Koenigssee, all the plans changed. I had to sit and have very honest conversations with my coaches to come up with a plan. It was hard for me to be honest about my recovery needs, as I want every trip in a sled I can get. I hate taking days off. But with the world championships in mind, and more importantly my long-term health, we made a plan.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by coaches who care about me as a person and genuinely want the best for me. I was honest and we developed a plan — we would take each run day by day and decide based on how I feel whether I would take another run. Unfortunately, because of the need to take it run by run, this would mean I would not be able to compete in four-person for the week. I was disappointed as I was really looking forward to gliding down the all-natural track with the extra speed and weight of a four-man. I knew it was the right decision to sit out the race, but every ounce in me wanted to do it anyway (luckily I’m surrounded by people who are smarter than me who make those decisions).

Out of the six training runs offered during the training week, I was only able to take three. As much as I tried to take more, the coaching staff decided that it would be best to allow myself to recover. I was driving well in training and with a few days of rest, I would have the best hope of competing to the best of my ability. I agreed and used two days off to prepare for the races.

I went into the race confident but still not feeling fully recovered. I had to make some adjustments to my race prep, but Lauryn (Williams) and I were ready to go. We blasted off the block to a start record in the first heat and I loaded into my sled. I grabbed the D-rings and started to make my way down the track. However, with two days off and limited runs, everything felt delayed. My steers felt slow and I didn’t feel myself, and made more mistakes that I would have liked. We finished the first heat in fourth place, an unfamiliar position for me this season as I’d been in first place after every first heat of every race so far this year (of two-woman races). I knew that I was a little off but felt confident I could improve for the next run. We loaded the sled on a truck and headed back up to the start.

I tried to recover as best as I could before the second run but I knew I wouldn’t feel great. I warmed up again, checked in with my coaches and prepared to go. We blasted off the start block to another start record. I had some problems at the top of the track, which cost us some time, but overall the run was better and we held our position. We finished the race in fourth place, to which I was disappointed and I know I looked visibly upset. I became extremely self-conscious at that moment, because as disappointed as I was — my “visibly upset” appearance was not the result of the finish. I was in pain and more importantly, my mind started to wonder as to how I would possibly recover for next week and what would happen for the remainder of the season. 

Of course, before I could get to far ahead of myself, Lauryn was right by my side to keep me from overreacting. She helped me put everything in perspective and I knew that with our coaching staff we could develop a plan. And so we did. I sat down with Stu McMillan first, was completely honest with how I felt, and we worked together on a plan. With a plan in hand and with great teammates like Lauryn with me, I knew that everything would be OK.

After the race in St. Moritz, Stu asked me what had come out of all this — out of that crash in Koenigssee. I quickly responded that I didn’t know, but then he gave me a second to reconsider my answer. After some thought, I found a few reasons, but wasn’t yet able to voice the true answer. The crash in Koenigssee and the effects made me realize something very special: each and every day that I get to slide in my sled is a blessing.

I am very blessed to be able to do what I do, as I absolutely love it. I had a softball coach in college who once told the team that we were lucky if we get one good day a month. One! Every day I get to slide is a good day, which means I’m well above average on good days according to my former softball coach. Even if I only get three runs in a week, my steers feel off during a race or I don’t walk away with a medal, I’m grateful for each and every moment inside my sled.

One day I will retire from this great sport and no longer be able to compete in the sport I love. I don’t know when that day will come, but for now, I’m grateful for the runs I have left and I’m going to make the most of them. So as we move onto the world cup in La Plagne, France, I don’t know what will happen and who knows how many runs I’ll get, but I’m looking forward to finding out and I’m looking forward to another week of good days.

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Elana Meyers Taylor