By Tony Baranek
Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune.
There are people who dream. And there are people who chase them.
And then there is Katie Eberling, who after five years is still in a full-out sprint toward hers as an Olympic bobsledder.
Eberling has been upside down on her head. Bruised. Battered. She has excelled. Been to the brink and then knocked down.
She had every reason in the world to walk away bitter and say she was done.
But she didn't.
The 27-year-old Palos Hills resident is very much in the hunt for a spot on the 2018 team that will compete in South Korea. She has switched from being a brakeman in the 2014 USA women's program to being in the driver's seat.
During the 2015-16 season, Eberling won two gold medals on the America's Cup developmental circuit. She finished eighth at the World Cup in St. Moritz and also eighth in the World Championships in Igles, Austria.
Much will still have to go right for Eberling before the 2018 Olympics. Two of the USA drivers who medaled in 2014 — Jamie Greubel and Elana Meyers — are planning to try again. And there are a few other time-tested contenders.
"It'll be tough," Eberling said. "It'll require me with a lot less experience to earn one of the spots. But I believe I can do it. As a driver, I have the controls in my hands and I'm going to do whatever it takes."
A volleyball standout at both Stagg and Western Michigan, Eberling was recruited to the USA bobsled program by Meyers. She noticed that Eberling was a National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American, and thought she might make a good pusher and brakeman.
Eberling turned a tryout into a mission, and over the next few years soared through the ranks. She looked to be a cinch to make the team. But two late entries with splashy names, Olympic track and field medalists Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, were both chosen for spots ahead of her.
Or she could have gone home.To say the least, Eberling was crushed. She was extended the opportunity to be an alternate and help with maintenance and on practice runs.
"It was hard being so close and feeling that my dream was coming to fruition and then having it go away," Eberling said. "I didn't earn the spot, and it was hard to look at myself in the mirror and feel that.
"I had a decision to make whether to be bitter and disappointed and let it consume me, or learn from it and take the experience and move forward."
Eberling chose to stay, and in whatever ways she could she helped Team USA earn silver and bronze medals.
When it was over, she went home to ponder the future.
"I was still going through the grieving process and I spent a couple of weeks talking with friends and family," Eberling said. "I did a lot of reflection and prayer."
Her decision was to travel to Lake Placid in March of 2014 and try her skills out as a driver.
"I just had this curiosity and feelings inside," Eberling said. "You're always curious as a brakeman what it's like to be in the front and actually be able to see the track.
"Driving school was a lot of fun. We were going from halfway down the track and slowly moving up (each time). I remember going down from a higher start and feeling out of control. But when I made it to the finish line I was overcome with this giddiness and excitement. That's when I made the commitment."
Eberling's progress as a driver has been impressive, according to USA assistant coach Mike Kohn. And since he knows better than me, he should have the last word for now.
"Katie has truly done a great job in transition," Kohn said. "The same work ethic she put in as a push athlete she's putting in as a driver. And she's beating other drivers who have been driving for a long time.
"I think next year will be even more comfortable for her. She's got a great chance to make the next Olympic team."
This story originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune's sports section. To see the original post, click here.