Quentin Butler’s career as a sprinter with a Nike pro contract wasn’t progressing past the 9.96 he ran in the 100-meter dash as a senior at the University of Arlington.
Amanda Alvarez, meanwhile, was completing a transition from track to powerlifting, where she competed on a national level.
But when the opportunity presented itself for them to apply to “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” both athletes jumped at the chance and made it all the way to win the skeleton competition, with each earning a spot in a national team training camp. The two-hour talent-search documentary will re-air at 4 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2 and 3 on The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.
However, while Alvarez took part in rookie camp last week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York, Butler had to sit it out after his routine pre-camp physical proved anything but routine.
“They found out I had kidney failure,” the 24-year-old Texas native said, still in disbelief. “During that whole training camp, my kidneys were failing. It surprised me I did so well. Since I couldn’t go to the skeleton camp, I got hospitalized.
“I’m currently taking medication. The doctor said I can’t do anything but let my body heal. He’s talking that I have to go on dialysis next month, and then in November or December, get a transplant. Athletically, I will sit out the next year and take it slow.”
Butler, who made a likeable impression on just about everyone at the camp, called the diagnosis a blessing in disguise because finding out ultimately saved his life.
“Things were going in a good direction for me at scouting camp,” he said. “To have something that big happen out of nowhere is kind of shocking. It was really stressful and heartbreaking because everything was there right in front of me, and now I have to take time off.”
He said his experience and performance at the NOH competition was great, but also noted that his track career had been taking a downturn this season with some slower times than he was capable of, which might have had something to do with his kidneys.
“I finished high in every event at ‘The Next Olympic Hopeful,’” Butler said. “I was top three in every event we did. It surprised me because I hadn’t lifted weights for six months.”
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USA Bobsled & Skeleton has confirmed that when Butler is medically cleared to slide, he will be extended an invitation to sliding school.
Alvarez was shocked to hear the news about Butler while at rookie camp, but she pushed forward learning the ins and outs of sliding face-first down a chute on a sled.
“I actually wanted to get in for rugby,” she said, referring to another one of the four sports involved in the talent search, along with bobsled and track cycling. “When they said skeleton, I looked at the different combine testing numbers and understood.”
Alvarez, who lives in Seattle and works as a master trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, an associate sponsor of “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” found out about the reality show through a co-worker, who put the notice in her mailbox at work.
“I was actually training for nationals in powerlifting before I found out about ‘The Next Olympic Hopeful,’” said Alvarez, who competed in the long jump, triple jump and heptathlon at Hawaii from 2011-13.
“I was pretty competitive and set a few Washington state records. I was also training hoping to make the Olympic trials for triple jump. The Olympics are everyone’s dream. When I found out I was heading to Colorado for ‘The Next Olympic Hopeful,’ I changed my training.”
The athletes competed in a variety of sprints, sprint drills, an underhand shot put toss, squats and other tests so that the coaching staff could measure the raw numbers before putting the competitors into specific skills drills.
“It does make sense,” said two-time Olympian John Daly, who served as mentor to the skeleton crew even as he trains for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. “No one grows up doing skeleton. … What they figured they could do with skeleton was … make a good athlete a good sleigh rider.”
Daly described the typical skeleton athlete as someone who meets the criteria for an explosive sprinter or jumper, but learning the craft of the sled is like running a marathon. It’s a slower curve than merely putting up good test numbers.
The competitors didn’t do a simulated skeleton run during the filming of “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” but they did do a push test push with a bobsled trainer.
At rookie camp, Alvarez found out that, just like Daly said, the skeleton has a long learning curve.
“It’s a very good introduction in Lake Placid,” she said. “They’re not sending us down the ice yet. It’s a lot of fun and not nearly as intimidating as I expected it to be, but super technical, and you’re trying to get those reps in while maintaining our other training.”
The next training camp takes place in October, and Alvarez is hoping things take off from there, if not for 2018, then definitely for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. Daly agreed with that approach.
“Doing the things you do today makes you the athlete you are tomorrow,” he said. “You use the same drive, the same technique, and one day you’re two seconds faster and you don’t know why, but you’ve been preparing yourself for it. Focus on the process and the little things. When you do all the proper steps, the proper corrections, you get the results you’re after.”Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.