I bobsledded at Utah Olympic Park – and lived!
A trip of a lifetime at the Utah Olympic Park
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to try to slow my rapidly beating heart. I waited for the red light to turn green. As I gripped the handles inside the bobsled, I felt a push from behind.
No turning back now.
Everything is a blur as the sled picks up speed. One turn comes right after another. The sled flies up as we go sideways into the curves. The only sounds are the rattling of the sled and my yelps in an octave I don’t recognize. My head bounces like a Super Ball spiked into a tile floor.
The ride lasts less than a minute, but it’s the fastest and longest 50-plus seconds of my life. There’s no time to think, process or react before the next curve.
We fly through one more turn and finally come to a rest.
Let me rewind.
After the Utah Olympic Park hosted World Cup events in bobsled, skeleton and luge in December, our editor thought it would be a good idea to get me into a bobsled and have me write about it. The park offers a winter bobsled experience throughout the season, so it wouldn’t be difficult. All it would take is less than a minute’s courage.
I couldn’t say no.
I was only 2 years old when the Olympics came to Park City. I was born and raised in Florida, far from any kind of winter sports. But the 2002 Olympics and bobsled have a special place in my family. My older brother was starting to get to the age where he could follow sports then and my parents taped portions of the 2002 Games on our old VHS. Short track speedskating and bobsled were our favorites; we watched those tapes over and over.
Short track speedskating is like “Mario Kart” on skates and it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize why a couple of young boys would be fascinated by bobsled. My brother and I liked things that were big and fast. We had a healthy collection of Hot Wheels and NASCAR diecasts.
Rinse and repeat for 2006. By the time the Games made it to Vancouver, in 2010, I was more than old enough to understand what was happening and they were back in a time zone that made it easy for me to watch. One of my vivid memories is of seeing the late Park City bobsledder Steven Holcomb end the United States’ gold-medal drought that year.
Still, I never thought I’d get to the point where riding in a bobsled would even be an option. Since moving to Park City, I’ve had a lot of moments where I think, “How did I get here?” Usually it’s when I’m skiing or trying to drive in the snow. This was different.
We made the decision, I booked a ticket and then I put it out of my mind. The next thing I knew, two weeks had passed and it was suddenly go time.
I both knew what I was getting into and had no idea what to expect. After covering the World Cups at Utah Olympic Park, I’d seen dozens of athletes navigate the course and knew the track pretty well, how fast the sleds would go and the physics at play. But watching and reading can only prepare you so much.
It turns out that something else was working against me: height. We were arranged in the sled with the pilot in the front and then went from shortest to tallest in the remaining three seats. I enjoy being tall enough to reach the “Please ask for assistance” shelf at Smith’s without jumping but I found myself cursing my 6-foot-2 frame when I realized I’d be at the back of the sled, which is wide open.
But at least they have those handles on the inside. With a total stranger sitting between my legs, I reached around him and white-knuckled those handles harder than the steering wheel on any winter trip I’ve made in Parleys Canyon.
It’s not the smoothest way to travel down a mountain. That’s evident just from hanging out at the track and hearing the bobsleds roar past. It’s not any easier on the inside. I was met with an overwhelming desire to slow the world down again. That’s not even counting the G-forces that suck you inside the sled — but there’s nothing to do but wait for the finish line.
I was expecting some kind of rush of adrenaline and anticipated feeling like I wanted to run through a wall at the bottom. Instead, I was relieved as my heart rate returned to normal. I climbed out of the sled, walked to the side of the finish dock and tried to process what had happened.
While I’d be open to taking another trip down the track, I don’t see myself bulking up and trying to make it as a bobsledder any time soon. However, I was interested in seeing how my first trip compared to a professional bobsledder’s, so I talked with Jasmine Jones, who competed in her first World Cup bobsled event in November and earned her first World Cup podium in Park City in December.
Jones, who is 26, and ran track in college, had her first bobsled experience in Park City.
“It was actually kind of fun, I just didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “I closed my eyes. Even still, to this day, I close my eyes every time I get back in the sled. … The G-force I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t know that was a thing until I felt like something was pushing on my back. But other than that … It made me want to get back in.”
Jones experienced something on her first run that I didn’t: drooling. She attributed it to being so relaxed and not breathing properly. Once she made it down to the bottom, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“I have pictures of this, too,” she said. “Just like, ‘Wow, I really did it. I was really in a bobsled.’”
She got her start in bobsled when she was recruited in 2018 as a senior in college. She was receiving emails about bobsled and didn’t believe they were real, so she never responded. It wasn’t until her track coaches were contacted that she took it seriously.
“I thought about getting an agent and everything for track but also wanted to see what bobsled is about,” she said. “Let me at least go test other limits and see what’s out there. It’s another chance to still further myself as an athlete because I knew, after my senior year, I didn’t want to be done at all. And now, to this day, I don’t think I would change a thing.”
Jones compared being in a bobsled to riding a rollercoaster, with a few differences. Rollercoasters follow a very specific, set path; bobsleds depend on the pilot. That’s not even factoring in the possibility of a bobsled crashing and flipping over. “You’re also not strapped in” on a rollercoaster, she pointed out. “You’re just sitting there like you’re in a bathtub.”
I’m not a risk taker or adrenaline junkie. The last time I was on a rollercoaster was about a decade ago. I’m still proud of myself for making it through and keeping my lunch down.
I walked down to the Utah Olympic Park parking lot, drive through a couple of the sharp turns that lead up to the park, which paled in comparison to what I had just experienced, and got home, where I began to write this before memories of my bobsled run had dissipated.
More than an hour later, I realized that I was still wearing my helmet liner around my neck.
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