Pushing Valor: Nathan Weber's long road to the national team

Nov. 06, 2017, 4:03 p.m. (ET)

Photo: Molly Choma

 

By Kristen Gowdy

 

Nathan Weber’s offseason training regimen looks different than most other athletes’.


It happens in places like Niger, Cameroon and Afghanistan. Instead of pushing bobsleds on a track, he makes do with trucks and ATV’s marked ‘United States Army.’ Sometimes he’s in deserts so hot he can’t lift until the wee hours of the morning because the bar will burn his hand. Other times, his workouts follow four days of sleeping in bug netting in a jungle.


But Weber, a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army, continues to train. And this season, which marks his first-ever national team berth, he finally feels like it’s paying off.


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Weber’s journey to the national team has taken him through three deployments to three different countries and five seasons of self-funding his athletic career. But before he even found bobsledding or the Army, he was a high schooler in Denver, Colo., watching in his freshman homeroom class as 9/11 unfolded.


He had always had the Army in the back of his mind, ever since he was a kid. Now, though, he had a cemented reason to join.


“9/11 had a pretty big impact on me, so I wanted to join right away,” he said.


In 2005, fresh out of high school, Weber enlisted. The original plan was to commit to three years in the Army, then get out and go to college, but he “ended up kind of liking it.” So he stayed.

 

As an 18-year-old in the Army, Weber spent his first two years serving as an infantryman. By the time he was 20 though, he made the decision to train for his Green Beret. Special Forces training requires two and a half years of intense physical and mental conditioning. In comparison, the Navy SEALS training program is just six months long.

By the time he was 22, Weber had graduated the program and had his Green Beret. Special Forces assigns its troops to one of four specializations: medical, communications, weapons or engineering. Based on his test scores, Weber was assigned to the medical specification.


“It’s a pretty tough road, it’s a pretty long road,” he said. “You have a lot of people who do try to do it, but not a whole lot of people graduate and succeed as a Green Beret. We actually have our own miniature, compressed version of medical school where we do everything from anatomy and physiology to surgery and anesthesia. We get pretty in-depth on our training and can do almost anything that a Physician’s Assistant can do, but only for people in the Army or locals where we’re deployed.”


While he was completing Special Forces training, Weber came across an article about bobsledding. It featured Justin Olsen, who had just won an Olympic gold medal while serving in the Army.


“Reading about him is how I got into it,” Weber said. “I thought to myself, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”


Two years later, Weber had some downtime in his military career and took a chance on an opportunity that he knew could change his life. He had grown up playing soccer and wrestling, but missed the thrill of competition. So he traveled to Lake Placid and tried out in 2012.


In the years since, Weber has been competing primarily on the North American Cup tour, sliding during the winters and executing his military duties during the summer. He got to race with Olsen in USA Bobsled Team Trials one year, which he still says is the highlight of his bobsled career so far.


For the first three summers of this Olympic quad, he has been deployed to Niger, Cameroon and Afghanistan, respectively. There, Weber and his team work to carry out the Special Forces motto, which translates to “To Liberate the Oppressed.”


During his deployments, Weber served as his crew’s medic while also carrying out medical services for locals in the communities in which he was deployed. The locals called him “Dr. Nate,” and he did everything he could to make sure they were receiving as much care as possible.


“Green Berets are shooters first and teachers first and leaders of other soldiers first,” he said. “Our specialties kind of come second, but I was the medic, I was that guy for our deployments.”


At the same time, Weber trained for his other career. Oftentimes the conditions for training were less than ideal. He would simulate push training by pushing Army-issue trucks and ATV’s and would run sprints dragging water cans behind him. He would lift in the scorching heat of the desert and in pouring rain in the jungle.


Once, he was running sprints and an explosion went off 75 meters overhead. After avoiding the ensuing metal that rained down on him from the blast, Weber shrugged it off and kept running.


“I go up and stand against the wall and am thinking ‘Wow. That thing was coming right for me,’” he said. “I took advantage of the adrenaline dump and ran some pretty good times that day.”


Adrenaline also applies to his second career, where he finds it at the starting blocks, riled by his teammates. He feels it again at the bottom of the icy track, especially when his team is leading. It’s a different kind of adrenaline, this energy he finds in competition, but it’s just as effective.


This summer, Weber was able to stay in the United States and train full-time for bobsled with the support of the 10th Special Forces Group. It resulted in a third-place finish at USA Bobsled National Push Championships, a spot on pilot Codie Bascue’s four-man team and a berth onto the national team. Weber’s first World Cup race will be this week in Lake Placid.


He knows that he still has a long way to go before the Olympic team is announced in January, but right now, wearing “USA” on his back in two different capacities is the biggest honor he could achieve.


“I want to see how high I can take this, how far I can take this,” he said. “I love to compete, that’s why I do everything I do. That’s why I didn’t just join the Army, I went Special Forces. That’s why I want to go to the Olympics. I just love to compete.”


Each summer, Weber has saved the money he makes during deployments to fund his bobsledding career, in addition to assistance and support from his Special Forces team — this summer, he got a letter and a Military Challenge coin from the two highest ranking officers in Special Forces.


It’s made the road a little bit tougher, but come February, standing atop an Olympic podium would make it all worth it.


“To know that I have the support of everyone in Special Forces is really awesome,” he said.

“To make the Olympic team, I’d be absolutely floored. Honestly, I can’t even put it into words how much it’d mean. It’s that big to me.”