The sport of bobsled might not be the first activity you would think people without an arm or a leg could be successful at. Thanks to two former Salt Lake Community College students, however, that is becoming a reality in an Olympic-sized way.
Having been involved in the sport since 1997, Jeremy Holm, a 2007 graduate in Communication from SLCC was approached by program director Dave Nicholls about taking over as the coach of the US Adaptive Bobsled Team last year.
“There were a couple things that drew me to job. One was the possibility of creating a team and creating a program that will hopefully make it happen in the Paralympics,” he said. “The other thing that really brought me into all this was I have struggled with depression and anxiety. It’s a disability, but it’s not visible…I realized that in some ways, I can relate to my athletes, so I just felt like it was a good fit for me and it has been. It’s been a lot of fun.”
A program that he described as “recreational” in years past, Holm has taken the bull by the horns to transform something recreational into something that has a chance to be part of the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014.
“The transition we had this last season was that it’s becoming more serious. The athletes have a bit more responsibility… I’m asking a lot more from them. This season has been a major growth period. We have some great things that we are hoping to make happen over the next few years,” he said.
Top on the list is getting bobsled approved as a Paralympic sport.
So what would it take to bring adaptive bobsled to the big stage? Since being a Paralympic sport is such a big deal, Holm said that there are quite a few requirements that need to be defined and met. For one, sled specifications need to be standardized better. Holm explained that this is challenging because the athletes have a variety of injuries, from not being able to walk to missing a hand.
Another challenge is getting other countries interested and able to support such a program for international competition. Tongue-in-cheek calling his team “a guinea pig program,” Holm explained, “Its like a snowball. Right now we are the core of a hopeful avalanche, but we’re just barely rolling. We really have to get them [other countries] on board. Next season will be a pretty good indication of how fast things are moving.”
Thus far, athletes from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the bobsled icon of Jamaica (think Cool Runnings) have shown the initial steps in developing adaptive programs.
In truth though, dreams of donning the red, white and blue at the Paralympics is only part of this story. The other part lies in the lives of people like Cody Reese, another Salt Lake Community College graduate. Born without a femur, “my grandparents told my parents to hide me because of my disability,” Reese said.
An incident involving a family member caused that to change for him, though.
“A cousin of mine lost his leg shooting avalanches up at Park City and told my parents to get me into ski racing. So as a kid, ski racing was my avenue.” With dreams of making it to the Paralympics one day, money to compete eventually became hard to come by. “For a long time I fought to find something to do, find something that would help me out.”
After a number of challenges that kept him from joining the bobsled program for a few years, things came together for Reese last fall.
“I just came out to try the sport…I went up for a run, just to try it out, and just got hooked,” he said. “It’s given me a huge sense of pride and self-esteem to be able to say that I am part of a team.”
Describing the sport as “very violent,” Reese insists that the adaptive version of the sport that he participates in is not much different than the one you might see at the Olympics.
“You see it on TV and it looks so smooth and controlled – any bump or hit against the wall – its like someone punching you as hard as they can in the side.” He continued, “Not only that, but the only part of my bobsledding that is adaptive is my prosthetic. The sled is the same. The track is the same. The G-forces are the same, all the turns are the same…it’s such a cool experience to have that. Being able to get in that sled and do as good or better than people that are able-bodied is such a great feeling, such a great experience.”
Holm seconds that motion.
“People might look at some of our athletes and say all the things that they can’t do, but our team is all about what we can do together,” he said. “That’s what I like most about this program, is just how we’re working together. The camaraderie that does exist is really cool. And I think everyone does get a sense of how important this is. We are breaking ground for something that is going to affect the Paralympic Games for the next hundred years.”
It is in that trailblazing spirit that Holm wants to involve the community in this journey. From sponsorships to volunteers, Holm said that all assistance is appreciated.
“Students reading this who want to become involved with the program and be supportive, we can always use volunteers,” he said. Noting that sleds can weigh several hundred pounds, he explained that hauling them around at practices can be challenging for some of the athletes.
Another way the team could use assistance is in videotaping practices. Holm explained that since he can only stand at one spot, it is difficult for him to examine an athlete’s entire practice run without video.
On the team’s end, Holm noted the inspiring lives that his athletes have led, and indicated that they would be open to speaking engagements.
To contact Coach Holm about interest in the program, whether it be athletic participation, volunteering or speaking engagements, he can be reached through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.