Meet women's skeleton competitor Savannah Graybill
Photo credit: Molly Choma
Savannah Graybill made the USA Skeleton National Team in 2011, which was her first team trials and first year competing in skeleton. She received her master's degree from DeVry University Keller Graduate School, and has been working while competing. Savannah, who hails from Denver, Pa., is extremely close to her family- which includes a twin brother! Find out more:
Q: How did you get started in skeleton, and what sports did you play before? How did they help you prepare for sliding?
A: I played field hockey at American University from 2006 – 2010, and during my senior year my college strength and conditioning coach Jason Riddell received an email from Elana Meyers-Taylor, who was recruiting brakeman. It sounded like an incredible opportunity (and at the very least, as a broadcast journalism student, a great story!) so I took a combine test that summer. As it turns out, I was better suited size-wise for skeleton, so I made the switch. I attended my first sliding school in November 2010 with my twin brother and college teammate Megan Henry and was immediately hooked!
As a field hockey player, you need to be spatially aware – of yourself, your position to the ball and of your opponents. Personally, I think this awareness has influenced my sliding; it’s imperative to know and be able to feel where you are in each moment on the ice. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve been running bent over for years!
Q: Your family means a lot to you. Can you tell us more about them, and any advice they’ve given you?
A: I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive family base who have been there for me throughout my entire skeleton career. My parents, grandparents and immediate family have always been there for me, win, lose or draw.
The 2017-2018 Olympic season was incredibly difficult for me. I had lost my grandfather – my biggest supporter – in June, and hadn’t truly processed what I was feeling. The 2018 team trials and Olympic qualifying process is insanely challenging and anxiety-inducing, and at the end of the day, I came up short in January and failed to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. I struggled tremendously when I flew home as my teammates flew to PyeongChang.
During this time, my family constantly stressed that they loved me no matter what. At the time, I couldn’t grasp how important those last three words were. I felt alone, I felt dejected and I felt angry: I had failed miserably at what I had set out to achieve and I couldn’t even find solace from the one person I needed – my grandfather. But, with my family’s unfailing love, I eventually came out of this fog, got back on the sled and eventually decided to make a run for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
My favorite memory is when nearly my entire extended family came to watch me compete in U.S. National Championships in 2017. They rented a house and crammed everyone in – we spent the evenings eating home-cooked meals, laughing and playing games. The highlight was that they were able to give bobsled and skeleton a try during the Friends & Family event. They were all so nervous and excited to get in the sled, but they put brave faces on and took a run – grandparents included! Watching them come back into the Lamy Lodge with red cheeks, hurriedly narrating their experience is still one of my favorite moments today.
Q: Do you have a favorite sliding memory (both on and off ice)?
A: One of my favorite sliding memories is my first World Cup appearance in the 2014-2015 season. The first World Cup was held in Lake Placid, NY and my entire family came up for the occasion. I ended up moving from 10th place to 5th after the second run, and earned my first World Cup podium appearance. I felt so lucky to share that special moment with my family and the staff at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, who have followed all of the US athletes during their journey.
Off the ice, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and I am beyond grateful for the experiences. It’s tough to pick just one moment, but one of my favorite excursions once again came from the 2014/2015 season. Our World Cup in La Plagne was cancelled after dealing with poor track conditions all week. To make matters worse, they cancelled the race just 45 minutes prior to the start, which meant the hours we had spent prepping our equipment for race day was for nothing. Everyone was devastated – La Plagne hadn’t been on tour in a long time and we were excited to race on a new track. Not wanting to dwell on this sadness, Australian slider Jackie Narracott and I decided to go on an adventure and found a luge-style sledding hill at one of the ski resorts. For 11 euro, we each got two runs down this extreme sledding course that ran right along the ski slopes. I think I was out of the sled more than I was in it during those trips, but I remember feeling so content and happy in that moment.
Q: You've had some incredible work experiences. Can you tell us about those? Are you working now?
A: I have! Growing up, I worked many odd jobs to support myself through college and eventually skeleton. By 2015, I knew that it was time to start taking my career aspirations more seriously so I would be prepared for my eventual transition out of sport. Athletes train their entire lives to qualify for an Olympics and consequently, leave their sports vastly behind their peers when it comes to their careers.
So, I joined the Athlete Career and Education (ACE) program in order to make this happen. The ACE program is an USOPC/Adecco program that helps athletes find flexible job opportunities while they train and provides the tools necessary for athletes to transition smoothly from competition to great careers. They offer resume development, interview prep and other resources so that athletes feel prepared for life after sport. During my job search with ACE, I came across an opportunity that seemed too good to be true – a $10,000 internship to become the Adecco Group North America CEO for One Month. At 27, I was considered a bit of an unconventional intern but I’ve never been one to follow the traditional path. Obviously, I applied.
After a grueling selection process and four-day intensive bootcamp, I won the internship and spent the next month shadowing various executives and leaders of the company across the country. I wrote blogs for Business Insider, was interviewed on national TV and spoke in front of a crowd of 500 associates. It was an incredible experience and because of the connections I made, I was able to snag a remote role with the company a year later.
I’ve been with the Adecco Group North America for the past four years, working in corporate communications. Some days it is challenging to navigate both my training schedule and my workload, but I’m so fortunate to work for a company that supports my aspirations and works with my competition schedule.
Q: Why did you want to join the USABS board? Has it been what you've expected?
A: In the corporate world, if you want your voice to be heard, you have to ask for a seat at the table. As a veteran athlete, I joined the USABS board because I wanted to take control of my experience and ensure that the concerns and the voices of each of my teammates were truly heard.
Since my first board meeting, it’s been an interesting experience. I’m impressed by the frank conversations among the board members, who take their responsibility to make the USABS the best place they possibly can. There is more athlete involvement than ever on the board and I’m hopeful we can use our knowledge to make the USABS the best it can be.
Q: Anything you can tell us that we may not know? Hobbies, favorite dishes, etc.?
A: Favorite food: When I finally make it home to see my family, the first dinner I always request is meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli.
I am an avid podcast listener – I recently listened to The Dropout, Dr. Death and The Dream and was shook. As a broadcast journalism major, I appreciate the insanely-awesome storytelling abilities of these journalists!
I was a broadcast journalism major in college and would love to get back into the scene post-skeleton.
I’m obsessed with vizslas – I think they’re the greatest dogs ever. My family has had three and they’re the cutest, most insane pets ever.
I love Christmastime, especially Christmas trees. It’s tradition for my mom and I to go out to Elizabeth Farms, a local Christmas tree farm, to cut down our own tree. My parents house has a living room with a tall ceiling, so we can realistically fit a 14 ft tree in the house. The look on people’s faces when they watch my Mom and I hand-saw a tree down is priceless.