Friday, December 24, 2010

Bend over, put your head between your knees, and . . .

hold on!!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give bobsledding a try with the USA adaptive bobsled team up at the Utah Olympic Sports Park. A couple of months ago another amputee connected me to Dave, the guy who heads up the team and has done quite a bit to organize and legitimize adaptive bobsledding with the hopes of someday getting it as a para Olympic sport.

Dave waiting at the top to unload the sled from the truck. Props to Dave for not crashing, i'm glad i didn't get any iceburns my first time out.

Prior to this experience i didn't know a whole lot about bobsledding except you go real fast down an icy track in a big fiberglass sled. It always looked fun, but i hadn't ever given it a second thought until i was invited to slide with the adaptive team and see if it was something i liked. So finally yesterday we connected and i went up and did a few runs.

Dave and Olympic skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea and the adaptive sled (notice the "rollbars").

First thing you gotta know about bobsledding is there is the driver, and then there's everyone else. In a two man sled there's the driver and the brakeman. It takes a lot of training and practice and "drive school" before you can drive a half ton sled down an icy track, so you can imagine i was relegated to the brakeman position. You'll also quickly find in the arena of bobsled racing there are a lot more people who want to be drivers, and not very many who want to be brakemen. I quickly found out the reason for this. For the brakeman bobsledding basically consists of: push like the dickens from the start block, jump in the sled, put your head between your knees, hold on, bounce around against the insides of the sled and feel your guts get pulled up through your throat from the g-force, hope like hell your driver doesn't crash, then pull the brake at the end when the driver yells at you to brake (cuz of course you can't see where you are with your head between your knees). Yup, that's it. If you opt to be a brakeman, this is what your view will be like for the entire 50 second ride from top to bottom (except your head will actually be all the way down between your knees):

The bottom of the sled. The two silver levers in between my feet are the brake. Right on the outside of my toes you can see two small handles, those are what you hold onto. The driver chair in this sled is a lot bigger too, with race car style seat belts to keep the driver inside in case of a crash since a few of the drivers in the adaptive program can't walk.

Riding in the back of the shuttle truck with the sled up to the top of the track.

We did four runs yesterday, and by the time i got home later in the afternoon my lower back was so stiff i could barely move. In fact, i didn't know how i was going to bend over to take my prosthetic foot off. Doesn't seem like a short sub-minute run could do that much damage, but i guess the g-forces in the turns and the effort of holding on while rattling around all while doubled over will do that.

When all is said and done, however, it was fun. Even though i couldn't see a thing but the sun and shade flickering off the bottom of the sled, it was an experience, but let's be clear, if given the chance, I'll take the opportunity to learn to drive.

Two of the other guys practicing at the track jumping in the sled after the push.

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