Skeleton has given Kalyn McGuire a chance to represent her country at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Careening face-first down a mountain in an ice chute while lying on a sled may not be every ninth grader’s idea of a fun time, but from the moment Kalyn McGuire tried skeleton, she was hooked.
Now a high school junior, McGuire is one of the world’s top-ranked young female sliders and in February will travel to Lillehammer, Norway, to compete in the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
“It’s a very fast sport, which I thought was fascinating,” said McGuire, 16. “I love to go fast. You have to think really quickly and make decisions going down a mountain at 70 miles per hour, so it appealed to the intellectual side of me as well. It was a challenge, and I love a challenge.”
Despite her youth, it was somewhat of a journey that brought McGuire to skeleton.
From a very young age her parents encouraged participation in sports and got her involved in anything and everything they thought she might like. They went through what she called the “normal” sports such as gymnastics and swimming, but none of those stuck. Living in Queenstown, New York, about 90 minutes from Lake Placid, the McGuire family also had access to what she called the “weird” sports accessible in the host city of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, and eventually she tried ski jumping.
Although she loved the adrenaline, “I was a horrible ski jumper,” McGuire said. “I tried my best but it didn’t work out.”
Any hopes she may have harbored of pursuing ski jumping seriously ended one summer when she crashed so badly that she broke a ski, nearly broke her wrist and messed up the hill itself.
“They politely asked me to not come back,” she said.
McGuire did return one last time in winter for her own satisfaction, but the hunt was on to find a new sport. She tried soccer, tried running, but nothing ever replaced the adrenaline rush she now knew she loved. Then, when she was in ninth grade, her father heard about the junior bobsled program in Lake Placid, and McGuire as well as two of her siblings gave it a try. From there, she was selected to continue on in skeleton with the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
In October, McGuire won her first gold medal, and she couldn’t have picked a better race.
McGuire was in first place going into her final run at a Youth Olympic Games qualifying event, which meant she raced last. Some, including Romania’s Diana Puscasu and U.S. teammate Rebecca Hass, had very impressive runs. But McGuire held off Puscasu by 0.17 seconds for the gold, and Hass claimed bronze.
“When I was running with my sled I just told myself, ‘You got this,’” McGuire said. “I knew halfway down I was having a good run and I told myself, ‘You own this track.’ When I came to the finish I raised my fist and started screaming when I saw I was first. I’m pretty sure I scared the track guys, but it was just the most amazing feeling. Right after that we got to go the ceremony and see the flag raised and hear the anthem. There’s something breathtaking about that.”
Coach Don Hass said that McGuire’s drive has helped her succeed thus far in the sport.
“She is very committed and has a good drive to achieve her goals,” Hass said. “All the kids (in the program) have trained extremely hard, have families that have backed the kids and sponsors that have all helped to make this goal of them making this Youth Olympic Games.”
McGuire may be both an adrenaline junkie and one of the most promising young skeleton athletes in the United States, but she’s also still a high school student.
“(My friends) think I’m pretty crazy,” she said. “I’m always coming in with these big bruises, but I love to show them off because I think they’re cool.”
McGuire balances sliding and school by doing homework whenever and wherever she can, sliding three to four times per week and working out three to four times per week. She owes much of her improvement this year to her dry land training that helped her get faster on her starts.
This past summer she also made time to work as a river guide with Adirondack Tubing Adventures on the Hudson River, saving her money to help offset her skeleton expenses.
Although college is still a little ways away — McGuire recently completed her PSATs and said her scores were good — she already hopes to use her love of math, science and sports to pursue biomedical engineering and eventually work in the field of prosthetics as they relate to athletics and Paralympic athletes. Her dream schools are MIT and Columbia.
Her future plans don’t end there, of course.
McGuire hopes to one day represent the United States in the Olympic Winter Games.
“There’s not much more than being an Olympian; that’s the top,” she said. “Right now I’m a Youth Olympian, and that’s pretty cool.”