Fueling the fire

April 28, 2016, 10 a.m. (ET)



For the past few years, Casey Wickline has learned to walk the thin line between fire and ice.


In his second year on the men’s bobsled national team, Wickline spends much of his time speeding down tracks across the globe while competing on the World Cup circuit. The push athlete’s winters are consumed by travel, workouts and, most prominently, ice.  


And in the offseason, when the summer sun in Greenville, S.C., shines brightest, Wickline is just about as far from ice as he can get. As a firefighter for the Greenville City Fire Department, Wickline spends his summers in the heat of putting out fires instead of the heat of competition.


Juggling his profession with his athletic career has been a difficult balance, but for Wickline, the opportunity to represent his country while simultaneously serving his community is worth the somewhat chaotic schedule.


“The chance to compete for my country and the friendships that form along the way have been the best part of bobsled,” Wickline said. “When you’re on a great team you become a family, a very dysfunctional one, but still a family. With firefighting, I love serving the community that I live in. I love being able to help people who are in need. And I love the guys I work with. It's a pretty sweet gig.”


But for Wickline, growing up in Greenville, both firefighting and bobsled — but especially the latter — were far from his mind.


In high school, his natural athleticism — he could dunk a basketball by the seventh grade — earned him spots on his school’s soccer and basketball teams, and Wickline would stick with the former, playing soccer in various recreational leagues while attending Greenville Technical College.


That athleticism later led him, in part, to his firefighting career. Wickline never considered firefighting until he, after experimenting with several different careers, landed in a job that fit both his passion for helping people and his love for physical activity. Now a six-year veteran of the Greenville City Fire Department, Wickline knows he has found a permanent career, one that he plans to pursue on a more full-time basis after his bobsled career ends.


“I plan to have a long successful career when I retire from the sport of bobsled,” he said. “It wasn't something I always wanted to do when I was younger but as I got older and worked several different types of jobs it really appealed to me.”


In turn, firefighting rekindled Wickline’s interest in team sport. When a fellow firefighter suggested he participate in a bobsled combine, which was to be held in Greenville, Wickline decided to give it a go.


“I looked up what kind of athletes they were looking for and thought I might have a shot at it,” he said.


Wickline was exactly what the national team was looking for. After he found out about the combine in June 2014, he trained for two months before attending in August. He was invited to the push championships in September and when the national team was announced in October, Wickline was among several rookie push athletes who made the cut.


But if the months leading up to the national team announcement were a whirlwind, Wickline had no idea what was in store for the team. Many of the push athletes had retired after the Sochi Olympic Games the previous year, and the national team was primarily composed of rookie push athletes.


The situation made for a massive learning curve for Wickline, who had to work to learn the technique of a new sport while simultaneously competing at its highest level.


“That first season had a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “Basically we had to figure it out along the way. But with the help of our drivers — Steve Holcomb, Nick Cunningham and Codie Bascue — and our coaching staff, we made it happen.”


The turbulence of the season presented itself in Wickline’s first-ever World Cup race. He and Cunningham were paired for the two-man race in Lake Placid, N.Y. During the duo’s second run, a spectator dropped their hat on the track.


“We ran over it, dragging it under our runner through the finish line,” Wickline recalls. “It slowed us down considerably but we still managed a third-place finish.”


To this day, that race is still Wickline’s favorite.


Toward the end of his first season, Wickline made history as one of the push athletes in Elana Meyers Taylor’s sled when she became the first female United States pilot to compete in the four-person race. With Wickline as part of her team, Meyers Taylor placed 13th in the Sochi World Cup race.


Entering this season Wickline, now an experienced bobsledder, once again earned his spot on the national team. He pushed Cunningham to a season-best ninth-place finish in the four-person event in Lake Placid.


And he has continued to balance fire and ice. Over the two years he has been both a bobsledder and a firefighter, Wickline has found managing the two elements a significant challenge.


“With hard work and the support of my amazing city I've been able to make it work,” he said. “My wife has been unbelievably supportive and has sacrificed a lot. The whole city has been really encouraging, too. Greenville is honestly the best city in the world and I'm working my hardest to make them proud.”


But he has also realized that the two, though complete opposites, feed into one another. And that, he says, is how he makes it all work.


“Bobsled and firefighting are very similar from a teamwork perspective,” Wickline said. “That's the most important element in both firefighting and bobsled. When everyone on the team has the same goal and you have a certain chemistry that comes only with trust, great things can happen.”

Kristen Gowdy- USABS Media and Marketing Assistant, kristen.gowdy@usabs.com, (719) 722-0522