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In Historic Bobsled Career, Steve Mesler Learned Lessons That Helped Start An Impressive Next Chapter

By Karen Price | Dec. 19, 2020, 8:55 a.m. (ET)

Steve Mesler celebrates after winning the gold medal during the men's four man bobsled at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 on Feb. 27, 2010 in Whistler, Canada. 


The letter, dated August 2000, started off simply enough.

“To whom it may concern, I was writing in regard to inquiring as to what your standards are for accepting athletes to try out for the National Team.”

So began Steve Mesler’s career with USA Bobsled & Skeleton. Ten years later he won a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 as part of the four-man “Night Train” crew, and last week Mesler was named to the organization’s hall of fame. 

Mesler posted the letter to his Instagram account after the announcement.

“It was a reminder that this 22-year-old kid just took this random shot and it worked,” said Mesler, who back then was a former decathlete at the University of Florida just looking to extend his athletic career. “There was a whole lot of work in between, but it literally started with a poorly written letter, two days out from Tommy John surgery on whatever meds they had me on. People get stuck trying to make certain things perfect and sometimes you just have to make a leap. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Mesler, now 42, went to three different Olympics, including once as an alternate, and has more world cup podium finishes than any other U.S. men’s push athlete with 39. His career since retiring from bobsled has been equally impressive, having co-founded Classroom Champions and serving as president and CEO of the international nonprofit.

In 2010, however, he reached the pinnacle of the sport as the U.S. men’s four-man sled won Olympic gold for just the third time ever and the first since 1948.

Nearly 11 years later, he still recalls every second.

“I remember warming up for the last heat and the dampness of the ground,” he said. “You walk out to warm up and all 80 guys are out there warming up, then team by team they start heading in to go down the track and next thing you know you’re the only ones out there. At that point we were up four-tenths of a second, and in bobsled you just have to do your job and get down the hill at that point.”

It was a reminder that this 22-year-old kid just took this random shot and it worked.

Steve Mesler, Bobsled

They crossed the finish line and Mesler took off to find his family and friends before being reminded that they still had to do the flower ceremony. Then after the ceremony, when he did find them, he forgot to give the flowers to his mom and ended up having to toss them to her.

“I go to Florida to visit them and she still has those dried-up flowers,” said Mesler, who grew up in Buffalo, New York.

Being away from the sport for a decade and busy helping to connect athlete mentors with educators and students through Classroom Champions, Mesler said sometimes it feels like being a bobsled athlete happened in a previous life.

Lately far too many of the things that have brought Mesler back to the sport have been bad, he said. One was the 2017 death of Steven Holcomb, who drove the gold medal-winning sled seven years earlier. Then just this past May, former teammate Pavle Jovanovic took his own life.

But since the announcement of his hall of fame inclusion — in which Tristan Gale Geisler, Randy Jones, Vonetta Flowers, James “Nitro” Morgan and Geoff Bodine were also named— Mesler has enjoyed hearing from many people from his bobsledding past.

“I’ve been getting people congratulating me but also a ton of, ‘I remember when’ stories,” he said. “There was a guy who was at the training center when I was learning to drive in 2002 and he said he was sitting with me at the breakfast table when they told me the news that I was going to join the team in San Diego (and be an alternate for the 2002 Olympic team),” he said. “Other peoples’ memories coming back have jogged mine as well.”

Some of Mesler’s fondest memories aren’t even of podium finishes, but rather the day-to-day experiences and waking up each morning focused on being better than the day before. He misses knowing the backroads of Europe so well that he could drive from the track in Germany to the track in Italy without using a map. He misses having coffee with his teammates, and being in small towns where fans waited with their photos to be autographed.

But some of the lessons he learned as an athlete prepared him to lead an organization called Classroom Champions at a time when the very word classroom is defined differently now than it was at the start of the year.

“The good news was that we’ve been virtual for 10 years; our model is based on virtual relationships,” Mesler said.

They did have to figure out plenty along the way, though, including how to help adapt lesson plans to account for distance learning, assisting professional and NCAA partners in finding different ways to work in the community and deciding where to focus their resources in the face of so many unknowns.

“It was hard,” Mesler said. “But then you can bring it back to it was not easy to beat the Germans in bobsled. All the lessons in sports, a ton of stuff transfers and there’s a ton that doesn’t, but the stuff that transfers is you just know hey, the race is at 4 p.m. and you have to show up. It’s been neat to see that mentality around Classroom Champions because I’d say about 95 percent of us were either teachers or athletes at some point, and that means we’ve got a pretty gritty bunch.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Steve Mesler