Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Kehri Jones has always been fast.
The former high school track star from Killeen, Texas, went on to college at Baylor, where she was a sprinter who ran the 100-meter in 11.48 seconds as a senior and landed on a number of All-Big 12 lists throughout her career.
To be a successful bobsled athlete, however, speed isn’t the only requirement. Moving a nearly 400-pound sled from a standstill to a speed fast enough to compete with the top athletes in the world in a very short distance also requires strength, something the 5-foot-1 Jones said she didn’t have coming out of college in 2015. In order to give herself the best chance possible of competing for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, her focus since transitioning to the sport has been building strength while maintaining the speed that caught the attention of bobsled star Elana Meyers Taylor in the first place.
“I’m one of the smallest girls in the bobsled world, so that put me at a little bit of a disadvantage with girls a lot taller and heavier than I am,” she said. “With that comes being a lot stronger a lot of times, so that’s one of the places I was lacking. So I came to my strength and conditioning coach and let him know this is what these girls are doing, so can we make it to where I can do this, or at least get close?”
Finding a balance between strength and speed is critical for bobsledders, because the tendency when building up the strength to lift heavy weights can be to lose speed. Working on a combination of power and speed exercises in the offseason that focused on being able to move heavy weight quickly and still sustain speed, Jones said she’s been able to catch up to her teammates, and then some.
“Now I’m at advantage because I can do exactly what they do with less weight on my body and still be fast,” she said.
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Jones was still at Baylor when Meyers Taylor, who has been mining the college ranks for track athletes to make the switch to bobsled for several years now, contacted her coach. The sport was already in the back of Jones’ mind after watching Olympic track gold medalist Lauryn Williams, who was her track role model, push Meyers Taylor at the Olympics in Sochi and win a silver medal in 2014.
“(Meyers Taylor) emailed my coach and was asking about different athletes and my name came up,” she said. “She said she’d seen videos and pictures, and they both agreed on me being a good fit for the sport, so my coach came to me about and said, ‘So how do you feel about bobsled?’
“I was like, oh my gosh, if these two people think I’d be good at it, I might need to give it a chance, because I still had the will to compete after college. I ended up trying out and now I’m here.”
Jones still remembers her first ride in a bobsled. Meyers Taylor was driving, and it was at Lake Placid, New York. They call the notorious track the baby shaker, Jones said, and it’s where they take all the rookies to see if they’re going to be able to stay in the sport.
“With Elana driving I knew I wasn’t in danger of crashing, but the whole way down I was just getting my world rocked,” she said. “I was so scared and getting tossed around in the back of the sled, praying, thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going on but I hate this right now. This is awful.’ Then I hopped out and Elana was like, ‘How was it?’ I said it was awesome, but in the back of my mind I was like, that was awful.”
Yet Jones stayed.
She’s partnered with Meyers Taylor and other top U.S. drivers the past two seasons and in 2017 won the gold medal with Meyers Taylor at the world championships. This year she won a bronze medal competing on the North American Cup circuit with pilot Brittany Reinbolt and a bronze and a silver on the world cup circuit with Meyers Taylor.
Jones said she’s taking every opportunity she can get to perfect her craft and striving to be the best brakewoman possible, and looking for anything that can give her an edge to make sure she’ll be pushing a sled next month in PyeongChang.
“I try not to get too caught up in the day-to-day of (thinking about the Olympics) because I feel like that can cause undue stress,” she said. “I’m just doing everything I possibly can to ensure I’ll be named to that team, and after that I can focus on the Games. One step at a time.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.