Fotsch is one step closer to her Olympic dream after being named to the USA Bobsled women's national team.
Colleen Fotsch and Kelsey Kiel are former collegiate athletes who figured their careers in competitive sports had ended. Both had moved on to other ventures before finding their way into competitive workouts with CrossFit. Next, through the power of social media, they were given the chance to train as U.S. Olympic bobsled hopefuls at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York.
And for Fotsch, her Olympic dream came one step closer on Nov. 21 as she was named to the 10-athlete USA Bobsled women’s national team. She is one of two first-time national teamers along with Emily Renna. Mixed in are Olympic veterans like Kaillie Humphries. In fact, was Humphries who helped pave the way for Fotsch to launch her Olympic dream.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Fotsch always dreamed of making it to the Olympics, and for a while that seemed like a real possibility — as a swimmer. Kiel, on the other hand, was a soccer player from the Philadelphia area who only watched the Olympics in passing.
Different turns in life led them to become CrossFit athletes.
After starting at Notre Dame, Fotsch transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where she thrived as a member of the 2011 and 2012 NCAA champions. A standout in the butterfly and backstroke, she helped three relay teams win NCAA titles, and individually she qualified for the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. After graduating from Cal and not making either Olympic team, however, she figured her Olympic window closed.
“My dream was always to go to the Olympics,” Fotsch, of Palo Alto, California, said. “After college, I kind of figured the door had shut on my dream of ever making the Olympics. I took the sport as far as I could.”
Fotsch became a strength coach for Cal in 2013, and around that time a friend introduced her to CrossFit, which is a high-intensity fitness regimen that combines multiple training techniques and elements of competition.
Then there’s Kiel, who attended a high school so small that it didn’t have a track team. She played various sports growing up in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, but gravitated to
soccer. Her talents led her to Elmira College, a Division III school in New York that didn’t have track, either.
“Since we didn’t have track and field at either high school or college, I never learned good running mechanics,” Kiel said. “But I had strong legs, and I could kick the ball from far away.”
After college, Kiel played in adult recreation leagues until she broke her ankle during a match. That led her to working out back in the gym, and soon after her sister invited her to join CrossFit. Kiel was devastated at how bad she was at her first cross training.
“I was so, so bad at it, and it fueled me to want to go back and get better at it,” Kiel said.
She got good at it, and so did Fotsch. Both went on to compete in CrossFit competitions. They also embraced the community, following other CrossFit athletes on Instagram.
Then, one day, Humphries reached out.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada (2010, 2014) before joining the U.S. team in 2019, Humphries is one of the sport’s most decorated athletes. And with the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing on the horizon, she was on the lookout for new talent to bring into the U.S. program.
Fotsch and Kiel began separate chats with Humphries, who told them what it takes to be a good bobsledder. Of course, not many kids grow up bobsledding, so it’s not uncommon for elite bobsledders to pick up the sport in their 20s. Representatives from USA Bobsled & Skeleton typically look for athletes who are strong, fast and explosive, and also people who are good teammates.
Fotsch and Kiel both checked all the boxes.
The sport, with its high intensity and focus on strength training, appealed to both women, too.
“I love weight training and pushing a sled,” Fotsch said. “Bobsled feels like a sport I could really be successful in.”
Kiel also describes herself as someone who loves to lift weights, and said her strong lower body is an asset to bobsled. She also believes her competitive history in soccer and CrossFit can help her adapt to the new sport.
“I’ve learned a lot of things in training at the OTC, but I’ve also been in high-pressure, tense moments in CrossFit, so I have that experience,” Kiel said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another wrinkle to learning a new sport. Both Fotsch and Kiel had to quarantine before entering the OPTC, and they worked within these pods to develop their skills, including sprinting.
“Sprinting is something I never trained or worked on before,” Fotsch said. “At CrossFit, I got good at running three miles. Now I need to get good at running fast for a few seconds.”
Athletes then had to compete in two races in two days in Lake Placid, New York, for a spot on the team. In addition to Humphries, Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor and Nicole Vogt made the team as drivers. The push athlete pool includes Fotsch, Renna and Nicole Brungardt, Lauren Gibbs, Sylvia Hoffman, Lolo Jones and Lake Kwaza.