When former Kansas State rower Nicole Vogt slides down the Lake Placid, New York, track on Friday, she’ll be first new U.S. women’s bobsled driver to compete on the IBSF World Cup Tour since Jazmine Fenlator, Jamie Greubel Poser and Elana Meyers Taylor all became pilots in the 2010-11 season.
A driver’s spot on the team opened up in October when Fenlator, a 2014 U.S. Olympian, revealed her plans to compete for Jamaica moving forward, hoping to lead the island nation’s first-ever women’s bobsled team to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Vogt finished as the third women’s pilot at national team selection races that same month to grab the open spot, and she’s now aiming to place in the top 10 on Friday at her first IBSF World Cup event on one of the world’s toughest tracks.
It will be the first of three North American stops on the world cup tour, followed by competitions in Park City, Utah (Jan. 11-16), and Whistler, British Columbia (Jan. 19-23).
World cup competition has been in the cards for six years now for Vogt, who can readily recall the exact moment she decided to switch from the water to the sliding track.
“I’ve been a huge Olympics fanatic my whole life,” said Vogt, a former Kansas State rower. “I was watching the Vancouver 2010 Olympics during my last semester of college and bobsled was on. They were talking about Elana Meyers Taylor and how she played softball in college, and how she was looking for something else to do after college and found bobsled, and how probably 90 percent of the team is college athletes who cross over to the sport.”
Vogt wasted no time, immediately sending in her sports résumé and getting invited to a 2010 USA Bobsled and Skeleton combine.
But she failed miserably there.
This was because half of her combine score came from sprinting drills.
And rowers never run. Her comfort zone was sitting in a boat.
So Vogt devoted an entire year to running and training, returning to the combine the following summer. A much-improved Vogt impressed coaches in her second go-around and was invited to the 2011 National Push Championships, where she earned herself a brakeman spot on the lower-tier America’s Cup circuit.
It was all a very similar experience to her introduction to rowing — another sport that requires all team members to be in unison at the start line.
Vogt had never rowed prior to college. As a senior at Maize High School in Kansas, she was second-team All-State in volleyball and placed among the top six in discus, shot put and javelin at the Kansas high school state track meet.
Kansas State’s women’s rowing coach and British Olympic medalist Patrick Sweeney believed in keeping all of the squad’s scholarship money for in-state athletes, and he recruited Vogt to K-State based only on her body type and pure athleticism.
After redshirting her freshman year to learn the sport, Vogt competed the next four years while completing her engineering degree. She helped the varsity crew win its first Big 12 title in 2009 and was named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team in her final season.
“It was a really cool experience to learn a new sport at that high of a level, which really gave me the confidence to be able to do the same thing again with bobsled,” Vogt said.
Bobsled attracts a lot of crossover athletes from other sports at later stages in their careers, as athletes are not permitted to start at the top of a track until they are at least 16 years old.
“You can’t start at a young age because the g-forces and pull on your body would do a lot of harm,” Vogt said.
“Most Olympic sports you need to start at a very young age to be proficient enough to go to the Olympics by the time you’re supposed to peak. Bobsled is one of those rare sports where it doesn’t take a lot of skill to be a brakeman when you’re first starting. Rather, you just have to be fast and explosive. You push the sled, jump in and sit there and then you push the brakes at the end. That’s why it’s easier to start later in life.”
In her first season, Vogt finished as high as third place in America’s Cup races as a brakeman for Katelyn Kelly.
That offseason, Vogt was “wrangled” into the FIBT driving school when three potential pilots needed a fourth to make their training group complete. She immediately fell in love with her role as a pilot and transitioned to the driver’s seat in time for the 2012-13 season.
“All the responsibility you take on as a pilot was a whole new experience,” Vogt said. “You become a recruiter, a travel agent and a shipping expert. You’re also learning to be a sled mechanic, how to drive and a lot of things that come with being a pilot.
“The brakeman has no control once the sled is moving, so as the pilot, their well-being is in my hands, which is very different from rowing. One person takes on all of that responsibility instead of eight people in a boat sharing it.”
As a driver, Vogt, coached by 2006 Olympic silver medalist Shauna Rohbock, has progressed each year since then, winning her first North American Cup gold medal last season before taking bronze at the 2015 national championships.
Despite being on the national team now, she’s completely self-funded, working full-time during the summer and part-time during the season as an architectural engineer to finance her bobsled career. She works on the electrical and air conditioning system designs for buildings ranging from body shops and hospitals to dollar stores and apartment complexes.
And it’s completely worth it.
“It’s an honor to represent my country and something I’ve dreamed of my whole life that’s coming true, so it’s pretty exciting,” she said.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.