2011 has proven to be another incredible year for the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams. And after thousands of runs on almost a dozen tracks around the world, Team USA was able to spend time at home celebrating the holiday season and reflecting on the past year, while looking ahead and setting goals for 2012.
“Being in Europe for almost six weeks is a really long time so it’s really nice to be home and relax and eat American food and sleep in a familiar bed,” USA-1 bobsled push athlete Steve Langton said of returning to the States.
Langton went home to Melrose, Mass., for Christmas, but flew back to Lake Placid two days later to spend part of his break training with USA-1 teammate Steve Holcomb.
Neither has necessarily set any resolutions for 2012, but there is a clear goal in mind for both: winning the 2012 FIBT World Championships on their home track.
“Our team is motivated, we’re in the best shape we’ve been and we’re looking forward to kicking some butt here in Lake Placid and hopefully taking not only the four-man title but also the two-man title since we’ve had a pretty good season so far,” Holcomb said.
Having won the 2009 World Championships on the Lake Placid track, and then becoming Olympic champion the following year, Holcomb is feeling the pressure to win in February. Langton, on the other hand, is motivated to earn gold at worlds for a different reason.
“Last time the worlds were in Lake Placid I was on crutches from hip surgery so I wasn’t even able to compete that season,” Langton said. “With so many tracks in the world I thought that was a missed opportunity and I didn’t expect to see worlds back in Lake Placid.
“I’m looking forward to competing there, a place I’ve lived and trained; that’s where I came into the sport, and we have a great team and I think we have a chance to do extremely well.”
The USA-1 sled is off to a dynamic start this season, having earned two-man silver in La Plagne, France, and two-man bronze in Igls, Austria, followed by four-man silver.
Skeleton athlete Kyle Tress is among the athletes focusing on maintaining success in 2012; his New Year’s resolution is to place in the top 12 in the remaining World Cup races. Teammate John Daly also has his eyes on success, with hopes that he, Tress and Matt Antoine sweep the podium at the upcoming World Championships.
With lofty goals of her own, skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender did not want to miss any opportunities to continue training during the break.
“Instead of eating Christmas cookies and being home with my family I am in London training hard,” Uhlaender said via email. “New Year’s Day I fly to Germany to start the race week in Altenberg, so no time for resolutions or wishing. It's go time, this year I'm a woman of action.”
Uhlaender spent the end of 2011 proving to the world that she is back and recovered from her injuries and surgeries, and that she can excel at two sports. Earlier this month she earned a silver medal at weightlifting’s 2011 American Open Championships, which helped her qualify for USA Weightlifting’s Olympic Trials, and then a bronze medal on the FIBT World Cup circuit in La Plagne, France the next week.
With an Olympic Trials as well as a home track FIBT World Championships awaiting her on her home track in 2012, what is Uhlaender most looking forward to in the upcoming year?
“The journey. I've taken on some very big challenges that are only Uhlaender-worthy. No matter what happens after five major surgeries in the last two years, spending six months of a year on crutches and not knowing if I would ever be the athlete I was before the snowmobile crash, I know I will come out the other side proud and knowing I gave it my all.
“I only hope to inspire others to never give up, and to know that even when things feel like they can't get any worse, it is no excuse to quit.”
Bobsled pilot Jazmine Fenlator has also faced personal challenges this year; her family’s home in Wayne, N.J., was destroyed by the damage of Hurricane Irene in August.
“I am hoping 2012 brings brighter days, but all that aside I am extremely grateful for the friends, family, teammates and supporters that have lent helping hands throughout the year,” Fenlator said.
Over 30 USBSF athletes took part in recovery efforts in Keene, N.Y., after the storm and also created the Jazmine Fenlator-Hurricane Irene Relief Fund to assist the Fenlator family in starting over.
“My New Year's resolution for the upcoming year and to continue always is to extend that helping hand to those in need, whether it's lending five dollars, donating my old clothes to disadvantaged families, driving someone when they need a ride,” Fenlator said. “It's the little things that make all the difference when people are in a time of need. I know that from personal experience and I want to pay it forward as a sign of my appreciation and gratitude."
Fenlator’s bobsled teammates had similar outlooks on the upcoming year.
Pilot and Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers plans to volunteer more, focus on the positives in life, spend more time with those she loves and learn something new every day.
Katie Eberling, a rookie who has already earned a bronze World Cup medal pushing with Meyers, hopes to complete more random acts of kindness in 2012 and take more pictures on the World Cup tour.
Fellow rookie Brittany Reinbolt has already created a 10-minute video recapping the adventures of Team USA from the first half of the tour… but her resolutions are geared toward the humanitarian in her.
“This year I want to help spread awareness about modern-day slavery and human trafficking and I'd like to ultimately help do something about it,” Reinbolt said.
Similar to Eberling and Reinbolt, skeleton athlete Kimber Gabryszak also wants to preserve the memories she makes on tour. Her goal in 2012 is to write journal entries every day to “keep track of the awesome experiences and opportunities.”
“Not many have the luxury to travel and compete, representing their country, and I don't want to forget any of it, nor the other amazing things in my life: family, friends, love.”