The True Meaning of Sport: Remembering the Career of Curt Tomasevicz
by Cole McKeel
A gold medal. What every Olympian/Paralympian endlessly dreams about, with every drop of sweat, every fresh cut or bruise, and every tear shed. The countless early morning workouts and the willingness to put the rest of their life on hold for the good of their teammates.
As outsiders to sport, we tend to measure success as the medals and championships athletes win. As a part of society, we only care about what athletes can do for us. We want them to have a killer instinct and to be flawless every time they compete. We don’t accept their errors and we take it personally when they falter. There are no sick days. There are no days of pain. There is no weakness. Whether this is fair to the athlete or not, it is the ugly reality we witness every day.
With such great pressure on their shoulders, it would seem that athletes would only care about these same superficial gratifications. However, recently retired bobsledder, Curt Tomasevicz, would disagree whole-heartedly.
“When you leave this sport, I want you to measure success by the relationships and experiences,” Tomasevicz stated as he addressed the audience at the seventh annual USA Bobsled & Skeleton Federation gala awards dinner.
Tomasevicz, a native of Shelby, Nebraska, has participated in team sport for the majority of his life. He played running back and linebacker for the University of Nebraska from 2000-2003 and was named Academic All-Big XII his senior season. After completing his education from Nebraska with a Bachelor and Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering, as well as a minor in Astronomy, Tomasevicz knew he wasn’t quite NFL material, so he shifted his sights to the slippery tracks of bobsled. He began sliding in 2004 and made his first Olympic appearance a year and a half later at the Torino Games, where he placed sixth with driver Steven Holcomb.
Fast forward 10 years, where we find Tomasevicz present-day. Hardly a stranger to the cut-throat nature of national teams and international competition, he is a two-time Olympic medalist, winning gold in Vancouver 2010 and bronze in Sochi 2014, to go along with nine World Championship medals in the 4-man, 2-man and team events. So why is someone with this much success at his sport focused on things other than winning?
“People may remember how good of an athlete you were,” he declared. “But they will certainly remember the type of person you are. Medals are great, but it means nothing without the experience. Without the experiences I had with my teammates in my three Olympic Games and countless World Cup races, the awards that I’ve won would be just a couple chunks of metal that I can carry in my pocket.”
Tomasevicz has had a long history in bobsled to reflect upon, with many different experiences and takeaways. But in the end, it isn’t about the hardware won on the track that resonates with him.
“My proudest accomplishment in bobsled isn’t two Olympic medals,” specified Tomasevicz. “It is knowing that after 10 years, no one can ever question my commitment, my honor, or my character and intentions. I did my best to make myself and my teammates better every day. I had an experience that no one can ever take away. And I don’t need an Olympic medal to remind me of that.”
After all, isn't that what sport is really about? Does our society have it all wrong? Is there a thing or two we could learn from the athletes who really get what sport and competition is about? Absolutely. We can learn a lot from Tomasevicz, who doesn't consider his favorite memory as one that has him on a podium. Instead, he cites a moment shared with his three teammates prerace in Vancouver 2010.
“It was actually the last few minutes of the warm up before the final heat,” Tomasevicz remembers. “We were the last four to head into the start house and just before we each did our last stride, Holky (Steve Holcomb), (Steve) Mesler, Justin (Olsen) and I had an unspoken moment. We simply looked at each other and we had a smirk of confidence knowing that on that day, no one in the world was better than us. We had prepared together and we knew that we were the best TEAM, not just four individuals.”
So how does an athlete manage to have success in international competition, without worrying about winning and losing? While he admits you may not agree with him, Tomasevicz believes that winning is a byproduct of doing the right things for the right reasons. He doesn’t deny that he has been very fortunate for the opportunities the sport of bobsled has provided him.
“There were times of frustration and anger, sadness and disappointment, and a lot of times of happiness and joy,” he admitted. “None of which I would change. It all made a career I can be proud of.”
Curt Tomasevicz has been and will continue to be an instrumental part of USA Bobsled & Skeleton’s success. However, his accomplishments extend well beyond his shiny medals. He will forever be remembered by the organization for his 10 years of hard work, his dedication to his teammates and coaches and his ability to keep things in perspective, which is a challenge he poses to other bobsledders and athletes as a whole.
“I want you to ask yourself a question,” he queries. “When it comes time for you to step away from the sport, what is it that you hope to have accomplished? What are your goals? Ultimately, why are you here?”
In the end, it is pretty simple to realize. Winning medals and championships is fun. The social media fans and the sponsors are really nice to have around. But when you look back at your career, eventually you are only left with what you see in the mirror.
So as we celebrate the success of Curt Tomasevicz, we are reminded of the true meaning of sport. We understand that the sacrifice goes beyond the field of play and we realize the impact is felt long after retirement.
In the everlasting words of the three-time Olympian, “I’m sure as hell going to miss competing and I wish everyone success. But remember that it makes no sense to measure success by a medal count. People may remember how good of an athlete you were. But they will certainly remember the type of person you are.”
We will miss you too, Curt. But we thank you for the legacy you have left on our organization and the countless lives you have touched both on and off the track.