I still wonder how I got into this whole mess. It took 11 years and 1,127 protein shakes to finally get to the Olympics.
Without fail, people always ask how a girl from Southern California got involved in a winter sport. It's like Cool Runnings I guess? I grew up surfing and had no experience of living in snow. It started when I was in 5th grade. The fable goes I would ride my skateboard down our street lying on my back. While that did happen with my cousins, the real story is that my dad asked me one day if I wanted to go check out this Luge clinic people were putting on for kids in the area. I’ll never forget it. He bent down and said, “Are you sure, we don’t have to?” and I said, why not, what’s the big deal? Let just go see what it is.
I had no idea that decision held so much weight.
They have to recruit kids to be on the Luge team because no one really dreams of being a professional sledder. USA Luge holds these clinics around the country where they have the same sleds but with wheels on them and they set up a makeshift course with cones. The US coaches get will teach you how to steer and ultimately you are just trying to avoid running into the hay bails on the side. There is a physical test at the end where they will get your push ups, pull ups, ball toss, sit and reach...etc. It does not take an insane athlete to get through the first phase, they are merely looking for kids who don't have fear and are able to listen. There is no body type for luge, they accept all shapes and sizes but they usually only look for kids between 10-13 years old. After this clinic, you receive a letter in the mail if you make it to the next round. If received, you are invited to a fall camp where you stay at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Plcid and learn how to slide on ice. It happens in the middle of school so you can imagine the look on my teacher's faces in the 5th grade when I told them I wouldn't be there for 2 weeks to go learn how to sled.
So you fly out, meet all the other kids that made it to the next round and the fun begins. They hold physical testing the first morning you are there at 8 am to get your numbers and then you are on the ice in the afternoon. Everything is a test. They are gauging everything you do, how you listen, how athletic you are, if you are on time, if you get along with other kids...all at 10 years old. I remember feeling really intimidated because I was pretty small for my age. I also had never really been on my own but I just remember purposely showing up 10 minutes early to everything and just trying to stay out of trouble. After the first camp, there is another round of cuts where the letters go out. If you get one then you are asked to go back to a winter camp a few months later.
Sure yes, it was cool to slide and go really fast on ice but what really got me is that my parents let me skip school and go do this. I lived with kids all over the country and all I had to do was get my homework done. I loved it. I had to add this honorable mention of a picture, it was pajama day at the Luge track. I was 10.
Truth be told, I actually got cut my first time going out to Lake Placid. I was too short and did not have the strength they were looking for apparently. I tried out a year later at the same clinic. Got through the first few rounds because I knew what to expect and I finally made the development team when I was 12. Once you make your first team, you have one shot at getting the coaches to notice you. Nationals. Every February all of the little luge humans come together to battle it out. They say the coaches only look at the first page of results, if you end up on the 2nd or 3rd page then you can plan on staying in your same spot for the next season. This is where the coaches pick and choose who they want to start working with, if you have a good race you have a good shot at getting asked to train in the summer camps.
Summer camps. Imagine a summer-long camp for a bunch of teens and tweens. The schedule is the same every day. Breakfast by 8 am. Team workout at 9. Pull starts at 10:30. Lunch. Game at 1. Slide at 3. Dinner at 6. Team meeting afterwards.
Starts: There is an insulated ice house that has three start ramps for us to practice on. The start is a pretty technical movement so it takes all summer to get your start ready for the winter. This is where coaches are able to see you up close and how well you take direction. They also had us on a treadmill every now and then to practice solely to practice paddles.