Quentin Butler is terrified to try skeleton for the first time and doesn’t mind admitting it.
The fact that the Season 1 “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” winner is alive to do it is something the 25-year-old is grateful for after discovering last year he was in kidney failure and undergoing a transplant.
“I might be screaming on the way down, I might,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to a new experience. That’s one of the biggest things since my transplant is to try to conquer my fears and live life a little more on the edge. I just want to make new experiences and try to live life to the fullest.”
The last year has already been quite a ride for Butler.
On Aug. 25 in Lake Placid, New York, Butler won the USA Skeleton rookie push championship out of a field of 20 hopefuls. It was just a little more than a year after doctors discovered his life-threatening condition.
Butler is a track athlete, specializing in sprint distances, but he wasn’t happy with how his 2017 season ended. When he saw a post pop up on his Instagram feed about “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” a transfer identification program hosted by the United States Olympic Committee in partnership with 24 Hour Fitness in which athletes from any sports background compete to land a spot in one of the participating sport’s training camps, he thought, “Why not?” and applied.
The next day his application was accepted, and the former University of Texas-Arlington runner went on to be named the men’s skeleton winner, earning a spot at the skeleton rookie camp to try out for the national team. (Season 2 of “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” airs on NBCSN Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. ET and NBC Nov. 25 at 1:30 p.m.)
It wasn’t until a routine physical with team doctors prior to the start of camp that he found out he was in Stage 5 kidney failure, an end-stage diagnosis meaning the kidneys have lost almost all ability to function.
The news came as a total shock.
“Nothing was wrong,” Butler said. “Well, I can’t say that because I was in kidney failure, I just didn’t know it. But other than being fatigued when I raced I didn’t have any symptoms. I was supposed to be bed-ridden, basically, and I told the doctors I felt fine, just a little out of shape and I chalked it up to having to do more long-distance stuff. I found out I was in kidney failure and it shook my world.”
So instead of reporting to rookie camp, Butler went on medication and started trying to find a donor. He went from competing at a high level to having trouble walking and eating. He set up a GoFundMe page to help with mounting medical expenses. He started thinking about things he never dreamed would even cross his mind at the age of 24.
“I went from thinking I’m going to live forever to wondering if I was going to live,” he said. “I was sitting at the Thanksgiving table and looking at my family thinking this could potentially be my last Thanksgiving and that scared the hell out of me.”
Fortunately, Butler had eight willing donors and ended up receiving a kidney from his best friend in March. The recovery process was slow going, although Butler admits he tried to speed it up.
“I think I jogged within three weeks of being out of surgery,” he said. “My mom was on my butt about it and she came with me just to keep an eye on me, but I got on the treadmill and jogged just a little bit, doing a grandpa jog.”
After six weeks he was doing laps around his apartment complex and at three months was running even more. Finally cleared to resume activity without any restrictions just weeks before the rookie push championships, he decided once again, “Why not?” and went for it.
As competition got underway, his old self returned.
In the rookie push championships, athletes are timed as they push the sled on a track. On Butler’s second push, he stepped on the rail with his right foot and lost some traction. He still registered a time of 3.68 seconds but was in fifth place heading into his third and final push and knew he needed to get into the 3.5-second range to finish top three.
He pushed a 3.51 — fourteen-hundredths faster than last year’s best time, according to USA Bobsled & Skeleton Director of Athlete Development Mike Dionne — for a combined time of 7.12 seconds and took first place.
“I’m a competitor and I always will be, so even though I hadn’t been sprinting that much I still felt like I could go out and win,” said Butler, who plans to also pick back up with his track career next season. “That’s just the competitor in me. So I just went out there and was just loving competing again and it turned out really good.”
Next up he’ll slide on ice for the first time this fall at a camp in Lake Placid. Not a big fan of rollercoasters or anything to do with heights, Butler admitted he’s terrified.
“But we had to do extreme tubing that was sort of the initiation to the feeling of what it’s like to do skeleton or bobsled,” he said. “I was scared out of my mind going down, but then I was like, ‘Hold up, this is kind of fun. I’m going again.’ So I went a second time. I’m probably not ready for the cold — I hate the cold — but I think I’ll get over it, and with the adrenaline rushing through me I’ll probably be warm at that point.”