By: Mystique Ro
For nine years of my life, I have been pushing my body in such a way to maximize results. Being faster, jumping higher, throwing further, building endurance and so much more. Year after year my body adapted to meet those demands- suffered many setbacks, but I always managed to come back stronger. Those nine years would prove to be the most important years in my athletic career history. A nine-year saga that would prepare my mind, body, and spirit for a critical test that would aide in shaping my future post-college: a test of faith…
For nine years I would show up to the track, do my warm-ups, complete and die in a workout, lift then go home and clean out the fridge with an insatiable appetite. Repetition created a comfortable, reliable and productive lifestyle that boasted grand results in my performance in competition. I showed improvement in each event I participated in. Consequently, I began building confidence in my athletic abilities, by accomplishing the goals I would regularly set forth to attain my season goals.
Needless to say when that nine-year window began to wane, “growing up” was becoming a menace on my own horizon. While I was a great student, attentive and an active participant in the classroom, I wasn’t ready to become one of the many. I wanted to stand out and be different, but I needed to find a way to procrastinate the “growing up” phase a little while longer.
Fate would bring bobsled and skeleton back into my life when I least expected it. Desperate to put off getting a desk job and fighting for a career, I attended and competed at a combine hosted by the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Weeks later I would receive my calling card to attend the 2016 Rookie Push Championship Competition in Lake Placid NY. That week consisted of learning the fundamentals of pushing both the bobsled and skeleton sleds on a dry track. The week would end with a competition in both categories. I performed poorly in the bobsled push competition-dead last. Definitely an ego check moment. My numbers didn’t quite reflect my capabilities (circumstances from the day prior contributed in a rough recovery), but I was also competing in a group of strong and talented women who came from strong athletic backgrounds. Not bringing my A-game yielded a poor finish. To add some solace to the situation, the bobsled coach admitted I was on the small side for a bobsled push athlete, and I should focus on getting into skeleton. Surprisingly-especially after what I just finished pushing in the bobsled…I was okay with that.
After a little break, the skeleton push competition began. The field was smaller than the previous but still full of coaching potential. At the end of it all, I was able to finish top 3 for the women’s competition. Thus began my irony-filled journey into the sport of skeleton.
I would return a couple of months later to Lake Placid for a week of skeleton driving school. Here I was able to actually get on a real sled and ice. Quite the different experience from riding a sled on a dry land track. The development coach only had us rookies descend from the middle of the track, just so we could get a taste of what we were potentially dealing with. The Devo coach would have us lay down and get situated on the sled before taking our feet and pushing us down an alternate start ramp. When I tell you there is nothing like sliding head first on ice with zero and I mean ZERO breaks… you see everything in a different light.
First of all, I would like to make it clear that from where the rookies were starting at, we were barely over half speed of what true professionals slide at. So from the middle of the track, we probably picked up to 45 mph. Meanwhile, world cup sliders catch anywhere between 75-90 mph depending on the track. Having said that, no matter how fast you end up going THERE ARE NO BREAKS! The moment the sled hits the track there’s no turning back. This is when faith is important. (Of course if you believe in a higher being, you would’ve been praying before getting onto the sled and even throughout the rapid descent). Here’s what I mean by faith:
- Trusting that the coaches believe that their methods of teaching, this sport and you are safe. Otherwise, why recruit?
- Your body will naturally do what it believes is necessary to protect your well being- albeit hanging on for dear life or accepting the course you are literally taking.
- You are not nearly going fast enough to meet your catastrophic end flipping out of a curve- calculate any equation using physics, gravity, or math in general. Now you may roll, but it’s more comical than dangerous.
- The sport of skeleton is sliding…sliding is fun…. so have fun!
Very quickly each athlete found out if skeleton was the right sport for them. Some were hit by fear, others were put off by the environment ( winter sport= winter weather), while even still some had other life/lifestyle commitments they weren’t ready to give up.
What happened to me? Well, my first descent was terrifying. My initial reaction to the sport came to the forefront of my mind ‘who is crazy enough to willingly do this!?’. When I reached the bottom, I was still shaken. I was experiencing a weird internal conflict. On one hand -this was insane, why on earth would I continue? On the other- this might be my last chance to be a part of something at this level with the potential of fulfilling my dreams… The latter demolished my resolve. I would wait until the next run to give my honest opinion of the sport.
I was sold. Whether it was the reality check I gave myself or the odd pleasure derived from sliding, I decided that I was going to do this.
I wouldn’t return to Lake Placid till March of 2017 where I found out I was competing at the Skeleton Nationals ( a large inter-squad competition with just about everyone who was on the roster and in Devo training). I instantly felt like I wasn’t ready, but throughout the days of sliding the coaches were patient with me in helping me prepare for the race.
Come race day I would say things were quite lively. A few athletes had arrived throughout the week, whom I had never seen before, to get some final ice time in before the race. The race itself was interesting. It was a fairly laid back environment in how it was run, but official nonetheless. With the least amount of quality ice experience under my belt ( pushing full speed from the top), my only focus was enjoying the experience, learning from the veterans and having fun.
From my perspective, the only element of the race within my own control was the start. I knew I could go much faster than I had at practice, but I still wasn’t sure how fast. When it was my turn to approach the line, I stepped up fairly at ease. Given the green light I took hold of my sled and set the runner in the groove. Three deep breaths, always three. On the third, a huge intake, I pull the sled towards my coiled body and PUSH. A controlled acceleration with a good turn over just before the crest of the ramp only to deliver a sloppy load onto the sled. It felt nice pushing faster than I had been. In the days prior, the Devo coach had me controlled- too controlled. A trott. A jog. A little pop, but that was it. Now I was potentially going full speed.
Outside of the 45-50 meters designated to the push and load, it was all down hill from there both literally and metaphorically. Just sloppy; I was skidding all over the place. My down time was atrocious. One run after another for two days I held onto my sled for dear life. When the race was finally over and the atmosphere finally relaxed, I could honestly say I had fun and learned quite a bit. I was approached by several coaches who commended me on having the fastest push three out of four heats. My best push had me off the current start record by 0.05 seconds. I won’t lie, I wish I could’ve hit the push start record, at least that would be the part people remembered about me as to my terrible runs down the track. But I did put forth an honest effort, so I cannot ask for more than that.
I am very fortunate for the opportunities given to me in my first year of sliding. It seems like the precursor to an unexpected journey, one that will test my resiliency and drive to follow through with my goals set throughout the seasons. I look forward to the start of the upcoming season hopeful, excited and ready to see what really goes into skeleton.