Most kids growing up in snowy states try to turn their backyards into winter playgrounds. A snow fort, even the random ice sheet or pond for skating, seem like ambitious projects.
American luge star Tucker West now realizes his Connecticut backyard, which contained a huge wooden luge track, was quite unusual.
Inspired by the Olympic Winter Games 2002 Salt Lake City, his dad, Brett, built the track by hand. It was the ultimate DIY project, with Brett and Tucker not knowing how a “real” track should be constructed or work in a run.
Brett was humble enough to realize his concoction might not be the safest thing for his 7-year-old son. So he ordered a bowling ball from eBay, with the intent of rolling it first down the run before Tucker got his turn.
It all looked great until the ball navigated the left-turn, right-turn snaking curve, flew out of the track … and smashed into a tree.
As you might have already guessed, the guys decided not to immediately tell Brett’s mom, Pamela, about the acute design flaw. (She found out a few years later.) The track was modified, Tucker started sliding, and Brett’s unexpected career as an unofficial luge coach was born.
Tucker, the oldest of three children, is planning to take a weekend away from training in Lake Placid, New York, to join the family celebration of Father’s Day. The bond between father and son is tight, and has remained a source of mutual strength and love.
“It took me a while to realize that most kids did not have a luge track in their backyard,” Tucker said, “but obviously, I know now. It is all is pretty amazing. Shows how awesome my dad is. He’s always thinking of new things and going for it, and he did it for me.”
Brett, while recounting the early days of the luge track, started laughing.
“If you had told me then that my crazy plan to make a luge track for my son would have led to him being in the Olympics, and now having luge as a career, I would have never have believed you,” Brett said. “Never. I’m just a dad who wanted to do something fun with my son. I wonder sometimes what Tucker’s life would be like right now if we had not done that track. Luge has brought so many wonderful opportunities for our family and Tucker.”
Tucker, who turns 22 on June 15, said his dad’s example of seizing opportunities in life inspires his approach. Luge is a sport of progression, with advances made in thousands or hundredths of seconds. Getting a technically perfect start or taking the entry into a curve at just the right spot can lead to a podium finish.
He has been posting strong results since his Sochi debut, highlighted by two world cup individual wins and a silver medal in the team relay at the 2017 world championship in Igls, Austria.
“My dad used to be really part of my training, but now, for the last few years since I got on the national team, it’s up to me and the coaches,” Tucker said, discussing the transition. “I know he still likes to look at my times and stuff, and that’s fine. I know he really cares.”
Tucker and Brett had a viral moment of fame during NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Games, thanks to two live appearances on the “Today” show. In one appearance, Brett lobbied for a girlfriend for Tucker, encouraging interested ladies to go to his son’s Facebook page.
In the next “Today” appearance, which was together, Tucker had the universal pained look of a teen son stripped of street cred by a well-meaning (but kind of dorky) parent while rehashing Brett’s interesting social media plea.
“My dad had his moment of fame, but that was really him — he’s a quirky, smart, funny guy,” Tucker said. “It was a little embarrassing, but I took it in good humor. It’s my dad.”
If Tucker makes the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, and he is currently part of U.S. Luge’s final selection pool, Brett already has given thought about his big message.
“Tucker has a girlfriend now, so I don’t need to go there again,” Brett said, laughing. “I think next time around, if we are so lucky, I want to say that I want to see my son as the first gold medalist in luge from the U.S. That’s what I want the world to see and know — Tucker on top of the medal podium. I am already so proud of him. He’s a great son.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.