After switching sports twice late in her athletic career, Nicole Vogt is no stranger to transition. Perhaps that’s why she has become one of Team USA’s most dominant bobsled athletes.
When Vogt, originally a volleyball, basketball and track and field athlete, was recruited to row crew at Kansas State University, she jumped at the opportunity.
At the time, it was the most challenging sport in which Vogt had ever competed. But it only prepared her better for her transition to bobsled following her graduation.
“Rowing taught me mental toughness that has definitely helped me in my bobsled career,” she said. “You have to overrule the pain, shut your mind off, focus on each stroke and just keep going. Driving a sled is much the same for me. You have to take each curve as they come and focus on what's next, never dwelling on a mistake in the previous curve. Learn from the mistakes, but don't focus on them.”
Vogt learned those lessons while rowing for the Wildcats, but continued to apply them as soon as she finished her four-year rowing career in 2010. After watching the Vancouver Olympics, Vogt, seeing that most of the bobsledders were cross-over athletes from other sports, decided that she would give it a try.
“I really just wanted to keep competing,” she said. “The announcers spoke about Elana [Meyers Taylor] being a previous college softball player, so I researched the sport and sent in a sports resume on the USBSF website. I sort of recruited myself, I guess.”
But getting from the inlet to the bobsled track wasn’t as easy as simply switching from the water to the ice. First off, Vogt had to train herself to sprint, which isn’t exactly emphasized in rowing.
At her first combine, which took place just months after Vogt’s graduation, she realized just how behind she was. Rowing had put her ahead mentally, but physically — particularly because she was not used to sprinting — it had hindered her.
“That first combine in 2010 was terrible,” she said. “So I decided to train for a year and try again.”
The Dallas, Texas, native returned to her hometown and identified a gym that would help her train specifically for bobsled. Her scores improved enough that she was invited to the 2011 National Push Championships.
After competing, Vogt was selected to race on the North American Cup. In her first season as a professional athlete, Vogt’s sleds finished in the top-10 in every race except for one.
The experience as a brakeman was a good one for Vogt, who learned the ins and outs of the new sport. But it was at a domestic driving school, taught by that season’s North American Cup coach Mike Dionne, that Vogt decided to make yet another athletic transition.
She had spent the season pushing for new drivers, and had experienced more than her fair share of bumps and bruises from crashing.
It was time, she decided, to quite literally take the sled into her own hands.
“I decided that if I was going to keep getting crashed, I wanted to be the one in control,” she said. “I attended an FIBT driving school in March 2012 and decided to make the switch to the pilot’s seat the following season.”
But for Vogt, becoming a driver was much more difficult — and complicated — than it sounded. Though she was used to the hectic North American Cup schedule and being a fully self-funded athlete, she wasn’t initially prepared for the added responsibilities of piloting her own sled.
“I spent that first year as a brakeman watching and listening to pilots and coaches whenever I could, but I found out quickly that becoming a bobsled pilot meant so much more than just switching to the front seat,” she said. “All the details can be completely overwhelming if you let them. My analytical, engineering side wants to know all the variables and plan for every scenario, but my creative side doesn't need a plan to wing it and enjoy the journey. For me, it's all about finding a balance between the two.”
Vogt would eventually find that balance, but it wasn’t without difficulty. In her first season as a driver, she once again made the North American Cup circuit, but with it came the biggest learning curve of her budding career.
Without the constant presence of a coaching staff to rely on as she navigated unfamiliar territory, Vogt learned to essentially coach herself.
“My first season was a huge learning curve,” she said. “Going to three new tracks with no experience and minimal coaching input was tough. I learned how to self-assess my runs pretty quickly and talk through them with other pilots to try and figure out how to fix things.”
In her first season as a pilot, Vogt never reached the North American Cup podium, but finished in the top-10 in all of her races. More importantly though, she discovered the benefits of self-reliance.
Vogt emerged from her first piloting season a more skilled driver because she became confident in her own self-criticism.
“The learning process that first season was frustrating, but it really forced me to learn the concepts at a very early stage in my driving career,” she said. “The silver lining is that now I'm not completely dependent on a coach's input to make improvements and changes.”
That confidence helped her to her first-ever podium finish as a pilot in the very first race of the 2014-15 North American Cup, when she took the gold medal in Park City, Utah. Another bronze medal and a fourth-place finish highlighted the rest of the season for Vogt.
It was at the 2015 National Championships, though, when Vogt emerged as one of Team USA’s most promising drivers. At the race, Vogt and push athlete Brooklyn Holton took third behind only Olympians Jamie Greubel Poser and Jazmine Fenlator.
From there, Vogt was able to use the momentum to propel herself into a spot on the national team for the 2015-16 season. She collected a gold and two bronzes on six America’s Cup circuit races this season, and raced twice on the World Cup circuit, finishing in eighth-place in both races.
“I love the person I'm becoming through bobsled,” she said. “This sport is teaching me so much about confidence, mental toughness, and the pursuit of progress not perfection. When I look back on my life over the past 4 seasons, I see a much stronger, confident, focused woman than I was before. I've spent the last three seasons building my skill set as a driver, and now that I'm here, I want to continue to enjoy the journey, become a more consistent driver and improve daily. I look forward to racing against the best in the world and representing Team USA.”
Kristen Gowdy, USABS Marketing and Media Assistant, firstname.lastname@example.org, (719) 722-0522