Last summer a mortar attack lit up the Afghanistan sky while soldiers ducked behind bunkers. They glanced up in bewilderment to see something bizarre — a fellow soldier running wind sprints while the attack ensued.
Even before the siren blared to signal all clear, Nathan Weber kept running sprints while his heart thumped and his adrenaline raced.
These are the lengths this Green Beret goes through to train for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. He’s trained in the jungles of Cameroon and the desert in Niger among other locales — places that aren’t cold and don’t have bobsled training facilities.
One day last summer while running 40-yard wind sprints in the Afghan desert, Weber stopped to take a breath by the gym. Then, all of a sudden, one of the huge nearby guns blasted, startling him while knocking an incoming mortar from the air. The mortar that was blown to pieces fell from the sky and dusted Weber’s body. His adrenaline kicked in, and he figured he would keep running.
“Everybody was looking at me like, ‘What is this lunatic doing?’” Weber said. “But I’m not going to let anything get in front of me and getting on this Olympic team.”
The sergeant first class is aiming at a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, and on this Veterans Day, Weber is in Lake Placid, New York, where the first IBSF World Cup of the season just wrapped.
His foray into the sport is just about as unorthodox as some of his makeshift training workouts. While looking through a men’s health magazine during a lunch break in Special Forces training, he read an article about Justin Olsen, who won a gold medal in 2010, just three years after taking up bobsled.
“I’m a vocal person, and I told people I was going to be an Olympic bobsledder,” Weber said. “About a year or two later someone said, ‘Nate, I thought you were going to be an Olympic bobsledder.’ So I went and started training the next day.”
Weber, who’ll turn 31 just days before the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, before moving to the Denver area when he was a child. He played a few team sports in high school but excelled at wrestling, in which he placed third at state.
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He enlisted in the Army three weeks after high school graduation, fulfilling a career path he’d already known for quite sometime.
“I always knew I wanted to be a Green Beret, Navy SEAL or in some kind of special operations,” Weber said.
He went infantry for two years before trying out for Special Forces, which he made the first time he tried. The school is as rigorous as any special operations outfit in the U.S. military.
Weber said in the first couple of weeks each Special Forces candidate put hundreds of miles on their feet while toting 60-pound packs. They had to learn anesthesia and surgery, something he put into practice one day in Africa.
One of the locals during an African deployment had been in a car accident after gas barrels exploded in the back of the vehicle. The man’s nose and lip were detached, and Weber surgically repaired them in the field as there wasn’t a hospital nearby.
“I also did it for the practice because you never know when I might have to perform a surgery or anesthesia on my own men,” Weber said. “You have to know the drugs and do it right because you’re literally putting someone’s life in your own hands.”
Weber and his team have deployed to western Africa on humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. They exercise foreign internal defense missions, meaning they help provide security and train partners in different countries to help keep violent extremist organizations out of their respective countries.
“We’re trying to keep out ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and other extremist groups,” he said.
Weber has deployed each of the last three summers during this Olympic quad and never missed a beat in his bobsled training. In Cameroon, he would sleep in a netted tent for three or four days to keep the mosquitoes off of him, and sometimes he’d get back at 2 a.m. and start lifting weights.
In Niger, the daily temperatures would often reach 120 degrees and, where the weight room was positioned, the bar would often be too scorching hot to touch. So they would wait until midnight to work out.
When he ran 40-yard wind sprints in sets of 10, he would have a specific starting point and place his water bottle on the ground at the end line. He’d run his sprint, take a cool, satisfying sip, and go at it again.
Back to bobsled, Weber quickly started competing and doing well, but not quite well enough. He placed fourth at his first competition and thought things might come easy. But he learned to realize he’d need to work better as a teammate than an individual.
“When I wrestled it was about my individual performance, but the bobsled is about having a great team,” Weber said. “I needed to be a better teammate, and that’s been the biggest learning curve.”
Even in regular team sports he was always that loner, like the goalie in soccer or the catcher in baseball. But he knew working cohesively as a unit was as important as good soldiers working together in the field.
He’s dedicated himself to making Team USA for the 2018 Winter Games, and isn’t really sure of his athletic career as his military life comes first.
“After the Olympics, knock on wood that I’m there, I’m going to keep working my [tail] off,” Weber said. “If I’m not there then I’m not sure what’ll happen to me.
“But if I come back and they say, ‘Pack up, you’re going to Afghanistan the next day,’ then that’s what I’m going to do. If they say I’m going to do PR and recruiting, then that’s what I’m going to do. I have such an amazing time bobsledding. But if my country asks me to do something, I’m going to do it for them.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years’ experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.