Cherrelle Garrett wasn’t looking for inspiration an ocean away, yet she found it on the cobblestone streets of Huckeswagen, Germany.
Disappointed by her last two seasons with the U.S. bobsled team — one in which she made the world cup team but didn't race and the next in which she missed the world cup team altogether — Garrett was unsure about her future in the sport. That’s when two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor invited her to join the team at “Sommerbob” — Germany’s annual off-season training event.
“I had so much fun, I realized I wasn’t done competing,” Garrett, the sprinter turned brakeman, said.
In a town of 15,000 about 30 miles southwest of Cologne, where bobsledders push and ride sleds outfitted with wheels instead of runners on a “track” snaked through the hamlet’s streets in the August sun, Garrett decided to give the winter pastime one more attempt.
“It was (Meyers Taylor’s) way of putting me back in the sport, to see where my head was,” Garrett said. “It pushed me to come back out for the next season.”
It worked out very well for both. Six months later they were world champions.
Garrett has returned to the United States, basking in the glow with Meyers Taylor of becoming the United States’ first world champions in women’s bobsledding since the International Bobsled Federation (FIBT) began contesting the title in 2000.
After some R&R, the preparations for next season will begin, along with long-term plans to get to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Garrett’s path to bobsled glory has its seeds at Mount Eden High School in Hayward, California, where she was a track teammate of Nic Taylor. Taylor joined the U.S. bobsled team in 2011, met Elana Meyers and the two wed last year.
Somewhere along the way — Meyers Taylor can’t remember exactly — Garrett’s name emerged as a potential pusher-brakeman, ideal for her speed, weight and strength.
“A month or two” of emails, Facebook messages and phone calls ensued before Garrett — a four-year 100-meter and relay sprinter at the University of California, Berkeley — decided to make the trek to Lake Placid, New York, for tryouts.
She made the U.S. world cup team in 2012-13 and traveled with the group but never was selected to race. The following year, with the Sochi Winter Games on the schedule and athletes such as Olympic track champion Lauryn Williams and indoor track world champion Lolo Jones competing for spots, Garrett was left off the team.
When this past summer rolled around, Meyers Taylor was invited with Team USA (along with Canada) to Sommerbob for the first time.
“Cherrelle came to mind,” Meyers Taylor said. “Cherrelle is a great athlete. I thought she had used maturity over the past couple of years to put it together. She pushed with me the year before. It was unfortunate for her really.
|Elana Meyers Taylor and Cherrelle Garrett celebrate winning the women's bobsled at the FIBT World Championships on Feb.28, 2015 in Winterberg, Germany.|
“I wanted to get her out and have fun with bobsled again. I told her, ‘You can come out, you can race every race, we can win races.’”
Meyers Taylor was prophetic. The two won five of the eight two-woman world cup races together, helping Meyers Taylor to her first overall world cup crown.
Garrett also had two third-place finishes as the brakeman for driver Jamie Greubel.
Then came the world championships in Winterberg, Germany, where Garrett and Meyers Taylor completed all four runs within a tenth of a second of each other and became the first non-German team to win a title — men or women, two- or four-person — in the four times the world championships have been staged there.
A typical American who only heard of bobsled every four years during the Winter Games, Garrett was little aware of the sport’s history, especially the contribution of black athletes who crossed over from track or other sports to make their mark.
This past year, she joined the likes of Jeff Gadley and Willie Davenport — who became the first black athletes to compete in the Winter Games (in 1980), NFL running back Herschel Walker in 1992, and Vonetta Flowers, a former sprinter and long jumper who in 2002 became the first black athlete to win a Winter Games gold medal.
Still recovering from the season, Garrett hasn’t received the calendar for the 2015-16 season, including when she has to report for training in Lake Placid.
An athlete all her life, Garrett was accustomed to setting and working toward a goal, an objective. While working as a personal trainer before this past summer’s call from Meyers Taylor, Garrett said she “didn’t feel like she was working toward anything.”
Now, flush with world cup success and a world championship title in hand, the Olympic Winter Games have become a new and realistic target.
“That’s the plan,” she says.
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.