The Olympics and my bobsled ride of death
posted by: Amber Johnson
As you’re watching the track events at the Olympics, here’s a bit of perspective for you. Eight years ago, I rode the bobsled in what I later called “the position of death” and it was craaaazy. Not because of the speed but due to a little thing call G-force. For this reason, most of the athletes’ training is spent off the track–they usually only spend two days per week on training runs. Enjoy my [painfully fast] stroll down memory lane.
I’ve done some crazy things in my life.
I won’t expound upon them because my mother sometimes reads my blog.
Riding in the 4-man bobsled at Utah Olympic Park was the craziest thing I have ever done.
We all know bobsledders go fast—upwards of 90 mph. I was equipped to deal with speed. What I was not prepared for were the excruciating 5 Gs of force weighing down upon me.
To put this into perspective: astronauts only feel 3 Gs during maximum launch and reentry in the Space Shuttle.
It was the first time even my Afro could not defy the forces of gravity.
Some background: I was in Park City that weekend. I was a part of Park City Mountain Resort’s cutting-edge social media site Snowmamas and my fellow Snowmamas and I congregated for a glorious weekend of skiing, tubing, eating and brainstorming.
Fellow family travel writers The Vacation Gals (Kara, Jennifer and Beth) were also in town. On Saturday afternoon, we toured Utah Olympic Park, which consists of the interactive Alf Engen Ski Museum, the inspiring 2002 Eccles Olympic Winter Games Museum, and a fascinating bus tour of the aerials, ski jump and the combined track venues.
I have done all this before. What motivated me to act as a fourth-wheel was the opportunity to do the bobsled at no charge (a $175 cost).
I figured it would be a roller-coaster on steroids. I did not anticipate it would be like gold medalist Steve Holcomb described as a “minute-long car accident” on one of the fastest tracks in the world.
Jen, Kara and I were assigned to Sled No. 9 and underwent a 30-minute orientation. The room was predominantly filled with chest-thumping, testosterone-oozing men.
In a 4-man bobsled, there is a pilot (driver), positions 2 and 3, and the brakeman in the back. Our instructor Jon described that fourth position as the most aggressive and the one that bears the brunt of the force. For the public ride, the pilot would serve as both driver and brakeman.
You know. Because the person in Position 4 is consumed with a minor thing like not dying.
And who would be insane enough to volunteer for said Position of Death (POD)? Me, of course. Kara and Jennifer gushed gratitude and vowed they would owe me for life. After what I endured on the Comet bobsled, a proper display of indebtedness would be naming their next child after me. Or, in the very least, their favorite goldfish.
The sled follows 15 curves at speeds only 10 seconds less than the professionals. We were the final competitors. In the public rides, no one does a running start so Jen leisurely entered through the back of the sled, followed by Kara and then me in the POD.
After straddling the person in front of you, the strategy is to shrug your shoulders the entire ride to prevent your head from bobbling around. We used the handles to hold ourselves upright and hang on for dear life.
We were gently pushed off the starting line and that was the final placid moment of our ride. I’m still at a loss for how to describe the sensation of having 5 Gs of force crushing down upon you. It was painful. It was fascinating. It was thrilling. But mostly it was just excruciating.
When I watched bobsledders on TV, I always assumed their head bobbing was due to the velocity but it is more attributed to defying the forces exerted by gravity.
Upon finally coming to a stop, my first thought was, “That was the most unbelievable experience of my life,” which was followed by “WHY THE CRAP DO BOBSLEDDERS SUBMIT THEMSELVES TO THAT INSANITY DAY IN AND DAY OUT?”
When I woke up the next morning, I had a severe case of whiplash and could not move my neck and shoulders. The blood vessel in my right eye had burst and I looked like I got my butt kicked by the neighborhood bully.
Which, in reality, I kind of did.
His name is Bob.