Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 2014: Sochi, You Got Nothin' on Me
When people find out that I am a fishermen currently living in Michigan- not to mention those seven years in Minnesota- the first question I get this time of year is, "Do you go ice fishing?". The answer is an unequivocal "No!". If man were  meant to fish through the ice we would have oily fur and flippers. This is borne out year after year in repeated stories of Hank Swenson or George Johanson needing to hire a barge with a winch to recover their 4X4 from the bottom of the lake, or  their fishing shack from a free-flowing berg because they missed the deadline for towing their portable man cave off the ice.

Despite my negativity towards the non-Olympic sport of ice fishing, I have long been a proponent of winter sports.  Ice Hockey, Speed Skating, Alpine and Cross Country Skiing and, most recently, the gnarly Slope-style, all have their appeal. Unfortunately, knee replacement, combined with a body that even the engineers at Lockheed Martin can't wedge into a bodysuit, have put those sports out of reach for me. There has, however, been one winter sport that has always held great appeal to me. How many times have I caught myself saying, "hmmm bobsledding.....now that's the sport for me!".

My first encounter with the Olympic bobsled came in 2000 at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. It was a hot July day. I walked up to the ticket window and I said, "hey what's the story?".  The story was there was a rickety quasi-sled on roller wheels that started half-way down the concrete run. I saw one go buy...... not that fast. The price was steeper than the run. Six of us would require three sleds...... five only two. Just five would be about $100 with the pictures...... this was for the kids. I took a pass. Roll forward 14 years. Our annual European Leadership Conference was scheduled to be in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Traditionally our leadership conferences feature an afternoon of "free" time often used for doing something fun with colleagues. It was back in December when the email came. "Please sign this waiver if you want to ride a bobsled at the home of the 2014 World Cup- Kunsteisbahn am Konigssee".  The  waiver said they were not responsible for death, dismemberment or injury of any kind. The name alone sounded totally bad ass. I was in.

Part of me envisioned a replay of the Lake Placid disappointment. Part of me was intrigued by the possibility of pulling 5 G's in a banked horseshoe curve. Afternoon, January 28, we piled into our tour bus to go to the Konigssee. Those feeling the spirit of Sochi would get off at the Bobsled run. The girly men would be taking a heated boat ride on the iridescent blue lake. I was surprised when half of our group of close to 50 got off at the boat ride. "How's your knee feeling?" asked my friend Thomas. "OK", I answered. He told me not to worry, he was sure a shuttle would take us to the top of the run.... hmmmm there was no shuttle in Lake Placid.... just a long climb....... We arrived at the track.

I was ready. "Hey Thomas, where's the shuttle?"

Uh,  there was no shuttle...... the hike to the top was on.
It was cold, snowing, and the hill was about three quarters of a mile straight up..... this would test my knee for sure. Slow and steady, before long I was trying on my sled.
The Edelweiss Rocket Sled.... no stopping to smell the flowers
These were Olympic caliber sleds. We were to pair up.  Two of us and a professional driver would go in each four man sled. We all were briefed on how to get in the sled. The lead driver said they crash maybe 1 out of 10,000 times..... "and what run is this?" I thought..... gallows humor. It turns out the helmet and the sled had something in common- both were a tight fit. The rides began. There was no real way of knowing what to expect. What would 5 G's at over 120 Kilometers per hour feel like?   I knew one thing for certain. I walked all the way up that #@%!ing  hill, I was not walking down. Time to suit up.
Eins, zwei, drei..................Geronimo!!!!
As we rocketed down the hill my heart was in my throat. It was as if we were shot out of a canon only to then sling shot through the first turn and catapult down the hill into the next turn. What a RUSH!!!
When the run ended all I could say was "Holy Mother of God that was intense!". I was thrilled. I felt so ALIVE! What a great experience. For once the fisherman was so happy he was not out on the lake in a boat! Turns out we validated Newton's theory of  the Bobsled: put two big guys in a sled and they will go faster than light weights in the same sled. So, having recorded the fastest time of the day, I took my place on the podium and received my Gold Medal.
And so it was that I developed new found respect for those who hurl themselves down the hill in world class sleds for the glory of God and Country. Finally, if you doubt the intensity of this run, check out the actual run as filmed with a Go Pro helmet cam from one of the same sleds on the exact course by clicking on this link

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