From hoop dreams to ice dreams; a different shot at Olympic glory

Feb. 03, 2016, 8:25 a.m. (ET)

From hoop dreams to ice dreams, a different shot at Olympic glory

by Kristen Gowdy

Kristen Hurley always had dreams of playing for Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team.

At just 5’5, though, the Columbia, Conn. native realized early on that she likely wouldn’t make the cut — at least height-wise — for one of the most premier NCAA Division I teams in the country. Instead, she turned to track and field during college, where she competed in the pentathlon and heptathlon for Gardner-Webb University.

While Hurley’s track career was successful in its own rights — she was named to the Big South all-conference team seven times in her four years on both the indoor and outdoor teams — it would end up furthering her athletic career more than she could have known at the time.

It was in 2014, after watching the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, that Hurley began seriously considering bobsled.

“I had heard of bobsled and seen it in the Olympic Games, but I had never really given it a second thought – I think I assumed that people grew up doing bobsled from a young age,” Hurley said. “It was my junior year of college when I heard about several high-level track athletes making the switch to bobsled and began to think about the possibility of doing the sport.”

Following her senior year at Gardner-Webb in 2014, Hurley attended a combine for USA Bobsled & Skeleton in Greenville, S.C., where she impressed the team’s coaching staff enough to be invited to Lake Placid, N.Y. for a rookie push camp. However, she first had to fulfill another obligation.

Hurley had redshirted from track during her senior year, and she badly wanted to compete in her final track season. So she put her newfound bobsled dreams on hold and enrolled in a graduate school program at Gardner-Webb, where she finished out her track career.

“Because of my commitment to my team and coaches, I put bobsled on hold for one more year, until I was done with track,” she said. “But my plan was to commit to bobsled immediately following my last meet.”

The extra season of track could only help Hurley, who returned to Greenville for another combine immediately following her graduation in 2015. She was, once again, invited to Lake Placid, where she placed second at the Preliminary Push Championships, then recorded a seventh-place finish at the National Push Championships.

It was enough. The extra year hadn’t set Hurley back; rather, it had spurred her success even more. She now realized she had the potential to live a dream that had always lingered in the back of her mind.

“I always had the dream to compete at the Olympic Games, but didn't really know how I would get there until I considered bobsled,” she said.

Hurley’s performance at the push championships caused several of the top pilots in the country to take notice of the young bobsledder. Several asked her to push for them in the upcoming national team trials, and she ended up teaming with Nicole Vogt. The pair not only competed at the national team trials, but they finished in third, just behind Olympic medalists Jamie Greubel Poser and Elana Meyers Taylor.

Just a few days later, Hurley and Vogt were named to the national team.

“It was an honor to be named to the national team and have the opportunity to represent Team USA,” Hurley said. “I am living my dream and getting to compete for my country doing a sport I love.”

In just her first year of sliding, Hurley has already competed on three bobsled tours. She took the ice with Vogt and emerging elite pilot, Katie Eberling earlier this season on the developmental North American Cup (NAC) circuit.

The lower-level circuit has benefited Hurley, who has had the opportunity to learn the new tracks in her debut season.

And the rookie has proven herself. In her very first race, Hurley pushed Vogt to a bronze medal on the Calgary track. For Hurley, the race was a validating experience and one she won’t soon forget.

“After seeing our time and realizing that we would be in the top-three, I was ecstatic,” she said. “We were both very excited to get on the podium in our first race and it was a great moment to celebrate as a team.”

Since then, Hurley has also competed on the European Cup (EC), where she competed with Eberling in the women’s bobsled competition and joined Meyers Taylor in an all-woman four-person sled, one of three all-woman sleds in the Igls competition.

Hurley also teamed up with Vogt to race in the Lake Placid World Cup, turning in an eighth place finish at the highest stage of the sport.

In just a single season of bobsled, Hurley has learned many things about herself and about the sport. One of those takeaways has shown her that she’d be better suited for the driver’s seat — and that it would help her in her pursuit of her ultimate dream: the Olympic Games.

“I believe that I have the potential to be a good pilot, because I am a hard worker and I am willing to put in the extra time to study tracks, work on the skill of driving, and make sure the sled is in top condition,” she said. “Becoming a driver could help me get closer to my Olympic dream because the pilot is more in control of her own fate.”

In the meantime though, Hurley has found a passion that has reinvigorated her love for team sport. She missed the feeling of working with others to accomplish a common goal, something she didn’t always get in the world of track and field, but something she has rediscovered with bobsled.

Rediscovering the love of team competition has also sparked Hurley’s Olympic dream. But she knows it will be a long path to get there, and she said the test ahead is a big part of what prompted her to decide to make the switch to driving.

“I always loved team sports as a kid, especially basketball,” she said. “But I shifted away from that by running track in college, which is really more of an individual sport. Bobsled has brought back that team mentality for me.”

Which is why, at least for Hurley, competing in the Olympic Games as a bobsledder would be even more rewarding than if she had qualified for track — or even basketball.

“Bobsled is such an adrenaline rush,” she said. “I love the speed going down the track and the fact that it is still just a little bit scary every time you go down. I am completely committed to this sport and excited for the future.”