Being the only rookie this year has allowed me to really soak up the culture. As I fumble with tools and enviously try to copy the techniques of those who have done this for years, I got an idea; I should be writing a rookie handbook! Here's a few things I have learned thus far.
Manicured nails have no place in this sport.
I thought my job was to run and jump in. No one explained that we are our own pit crew. Each driver has her own tool box and these girls know their wrenches from their ratchets. In addition to weight lifting and actual training on each track, daily tasks include: lifting and moving the 400lb sled we use; changing and sanding runners on the sled; and trying not to catch a hernia in the process.
It will be cold.
This seems like a given in a winter sport, but my experience thus far has skewed my perception in such a way that I will be quite shocked when I have to run full speed in sub-zero temps. Seventy degree days make it hard to keep the ice at an ideal temperature and now that we’re in November, this has become a weird norm. I have warned the masses this may be the warmest season in history as I pack the sunshine everywhere I go!
You need to be able to drive a stick.
My dad taught me how to change a flat tire, the oil and even how to recognize wear and tear on brake pads but “Car 101” should have also included a course on driving a stick! Our sleds don't fly, they drive, or should I say, are driven from country to country. By who you ask? Us of course! We do that ourselves and the kind of truck we will take turns driving is manual.
It’s okay to pee on yourself…
I was shocked when a female competitor announced, “Man, I peed on myself!" as if it was the most normal thing ever. I mean what adult woman does that?! Then I went down the track in Park City, Utah and I understood. If you have anything in your bladder at the top, the G forces will make sure you don't at the bottom. I now make it a point to go before each trip even if I don't have to. Perhaps I should increase the kegels? Don’t want to turn my speed suit into a wet suit.
You can go broke if you’re not broke already.
If you need someone to do some financial planning or write a budget for you, a bobsledder can stretch a dollar in ways I didn't know were possible. A full time slider lives on next to nothing yet knows how to make ends meet. Sleeping in a stranger’s house, on a friend’s couch, or in your own car is sometimes what it takes. A true amateur sport, athletes depend heavily on the support of family, friends and other caring individuals. Though the monetary struggle is discussed often, a vet slider will tell you they chose this life and there is no place they would rather be. Sticking together and making it work is an integral part of bobsled culture, which leads me to my next point...
Be grateful and appreciative.
If gratitude and appreciation aren't hard wired into your DNA this is not the sport for you. The stature of a bobsled athlete is imposing which might have you guess that you should approach with caution. I quickly learned it is quite the opposite. I have not said or heard thank you as many times in my life as I have in the last 3 months. It has been such a breath of fresh air to come in contact with humble people who gratefully accept everything given and give even more of themselves.
Sharing is caring…and likely necessary
You must be able to share and accept hand me downs. Onesies, burn vests and shoes are expensive and not easy to acquire, yet mandatory when sliding. A $400 pair of bobsled spikes are hard to come by even if you have the funds. I did my tryout wearing a size too big passed down by a generous teammate then negotiated the purchase of a better hand me down pair from another teammate who was retiring. With limited funds and many athletes in a tryout phase, it is typical to see a $200 burn vest, which protects you in the event of a crash, being passed from one athlete to the next between runs. On race day, you and your driver should have a matching speed suit, but good luck finding one of those if neither of you has previously made a team.
Bobsledders are crazy smart (emphasis on both “crazy” and “smart”)
You must be insane and incredibly intelligent at the same time to be a bobsledder. I described my first trip down as HORRIFIC and seriously contemplated announcing my retirement after just one trip!! Being jostled around in an unenclosed contraption, while being sucked down by G-forces, with the possibility of crashing, is not something one should volunteer to do and definitely not sign up a second time after going down the first! However, I have met two doctors, a nurse, a few computer wiz's, more MBA's than I can count, and various other highly skilled and educated people who have been doing it for years. With so much knowledge it is baffling how we would all be willing to risk rattling these precious brains riding 90 miles an hr down a track. Yet, I am still here.
While the situation isn’t perfect, nothing in my life to this point has been, which lends some familiarity to this unfamiliar terrain. I’m looking forward to this season and sharing my adventures with you along the way as I attempt to slide my way into Sochi in 2014!