Home is where the ice is
by Kristen Gowdy
Photo credit: Molly Choma
Unlike most of his U.S. National Team teammates, Jimmy Reed grew up in a place where bobsled is one of the most popular and publicized sports.
But even spending much of his childhood in Garmisch, Germany, the sport that would become Reed’s future was never part of his past.
“For someone who grew up in the mountains of Germany, it is surprising that bobsled was never on my radar as a kid,” he said. “I knew virtually nothing about the sport before last year.”
Instead, Reed skied, ran track and field and played soccer, while his father was stationed on the military base in southern Germany. The family spent 16 of Reed’s first 18 years in Germany.
“We were very fortunate that because of my dad's job we didn’t have to move around a lot compared to an average military family,” Reed said. “And because of that Garmisch, Germany is to this day where I say I am from and what I consider to be home.”
Years later, Reed would become a frequent visitor to the country, though he now lives in the United States and is a U.S. citizen. But his trips abroad aren’t to visit the military base that he called home for most of his life — they’re to race down the slippery tracks that are interspersed throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.
Reed’s rookie season with the national team was a momentous one for the youngest member of last year’s men’s bobsled squad. The 24-year-old spent the majority of the season pushing for two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham, in which he earned two podium finishes, including a gold medal in the Park City, Utah race on the North American Cup. On the World Cup circuit, Reed helped Cunningham’s sled to four top-10 finishes and pushed three-time Olympic medalist Steven Holcomb to a seventh-place finish in the Koegnissee, Germany race.
Reed made the national team in his first season as a bobsledder after a promising track and field career at the University ofMaine, where he chose to go to, because nearly everyone in his family — his parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins — attended. It also happened to be one of the only NCAA Division I schools to recruit him. Living in Germany and attending an international high school weren’t the easiest paths to a collegiate athletic career.
“When it came time to start looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to run track and field at the Division I level,” Reed said. “UMaine was one of the few schools who reached out to me about competing for them and with in-state tuition, it was an offer I couldn't pass up.”
It was in college that Reed first heard about bobsled. One of his coaches, David Cusano, had competed on the national team in 2004 and encouraged Reed to try out for the team if he ever had the opportunity.
When Reed graduated in 2014, all he knew was that he wanted to become a professional athlete. The problem was, he didn’t know which sport.
“It wasn’t going to be in track and field,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”
Then, he remembered Cusano’s words, and Reed decided he was going to become a bobsledder.
After attending a combine just a couple of months after his graduation, Reed was invited back to try out for the national team. He did well enough to make the team, and spent his first season on the ice learning a completely new sport — when he made his first World Cup appearance in November, Reed had only been bobsledding for barely six months.
But that didn’t stop him from falling in love with the sport almost immediately. He says his favorite part is the camaraderie between the four-person teams — it’s not a coincidence that one of Reed’s main track events at Maine was the 4x100-meter sprint.
“It's not always the four fastest or strongest guys that make up the best crew,” he said. “There is no feeling like standing on the starting block with three other guys, who you have developed relationships with and who you trust to do their jobs. Not only wanting success for yourself, but wanting it just as equally for those guys.”
Additionally, Reed’s parents — who still live in Garmisch — are able to attend almost every one of the team’s international races. This support helped Reed get through the grind of his first season as a professional athlete.
“They were behind me when I first set off down this path and they continue to support and cheer me on everyday,” he said. “But also just as important, they can resupply us with American junk food and drinks from the Army base, while we are on the road in Europe.”
For Reed, in his second season, he knows what to expect out of the grueling travel schedule and difficult training regimen that comes with the World Cup circuit. Now, he is simply focused on development.
“My focus is on this upcoming season,” he said. “Entering my second season, I am looking to improve upon last year and establish myself as a top-level brakeman. I want to continue to help the team in any way that I can.”
So far this season, Reed has competed in six four-person races alongside Cunningham, turning in a six top-15 finishes and a season’s best ninth-place result in Lake Placid earlier this month.
And though Reed hasn’t yet followed his father’s footsteps with a career in the military — he still thinks about the opportunity occasionally — he does see himself ending up working with the World Class Athlete Program (WPAC) after his bobsled career ends. The organization offers national-level Army athletes the opportunity to train for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Reed’s teammate Cunningham is a member of the WPAC.
But retirement and another career are, Reed hopes, a long way away. For now, he is focused on giving back to his country in a different way.
“The ultimate goal is to one day represent my country at the Olympic Games,” he said. “What is seen on the TV and at races is just five percent of what goes into the sport. This is such a blue-collar sport, and if you are not willing to put in the behind the scenes work and be a great teammate this sport becomes very difficult.”