(Farmingville, NY) – I don’t expect the answer to be yes. As a matter of fact I bet most of you don’t know what the sport is about. Some of you may have watched it in the Olympics and yes it’s winter sport that is carried out on a track of ice, but when the U.S. National Luge Team is searching the country for talent, they quickly change their equipment to work on land as well.
I embarked on this journey at 7:30AM so that means I had to wake up at 6:45 after a night of hanging out with some of my oldest friends, and yes there were some frothy beverages involved. I didn’t overdue it and I felt ready to go.
When I arrived at the amphitheatre parking lot it was a fairly cool day and a small crowd of Luge enthusiasts were there (not bad since the U.S Open and Subway Series were going on) to try and see if they could get to the next round and eventually a chance to be on one of the developmental squads.
For those of you that think I am fearless, and I’m sure that number is a very small one, I was nervous. More nervous than the daredevil 11-year-old’s and lets face it I was a lot more daring back then. I routinely was jumping curbs and going over the handlebars of my bicycle. Now I’m approaching 44 so I am a bit more careful.
The team gave a quick and concise orientation and then all the participants signed their wavers, put on their helmets and lay down on their sleds to get some further direction. Every precaution was taken here and Matt Mortensen, a Long Island native and senior national team doubles front driver, gave last minute tips before we all took a trip down a steep slope. The people who run soapbox derby tournaments use these same locations. A Luge can travel up to 25 MPH without the ramp and 30 MPH with it. On the ice, fuggetaboutit. I didn’t need to know that stat on this day.
I didn’t feel too old with Mark Grimmette around. He is a front driver who last won a silver medal in Salt Lake City back in 2002. He is 36, and he is the all-time international medal leader for USA Luge with 61! He’s a down to earth guy who is in tremendous shape and he could compete in the 2008 winter Olympics at the age of 37!
“I started when I was 14, so 22, or 23 years I’ve been doing this, Grimmette said. “I got started on a small track in Michigan…Each sport has it’s bumps and bruises that you take but I definitely have my aches and pains now from doing Luge. I’ve had no operations, I have broken one bone, my elbow one year, it isn’t bad at all. My biggest thing is I have a herniated disk now (in his back) from years of training.”
As I watched some kids go on some very successful runs I was feeling good about things.
“8 out of 10 athletes on the Olympic team started out on the Slider Search,” said Fred Zimny, USA Luge's manager of recruitment and development.
And there were a few minor crashes but nobody was hurt. One kid took out a soft rubber pylon and another hit a fence but he was fine as well. He hit it early on so he was going fairly slow.
“Not too fun,” said Michael Weldon, 11, from Shirley, New York, who hit the pylon.
He said he was scared when he hit it but when he wasn’t hurt he wanted to do it again!
After going deep in the back of the line my turn came and Matt gave me my last rights, I mean final instructions. When my Luge, complete with urethane wheels, started motoring I was concentrating on keeping it straight. I did shift a bit to the left and the right to keep it steady and then I was really moving and as the finish line was approaching I was wondering how my New Balance sneakers would hold up when I tried my “Fred Flinstone-esque” stop. I was told not to go flat-footed so I was worried about being a projectile so I slowly dug in my heals and by the second time I had stopped. It was over,. I made it and I had fun! As I took the walk up the incline a former Slider Search participant Genoveve Prevete approached me to see if she could use my sled because it seemed to be faster than the others. How much faster? I did pick it randomly so it would be just my luck.
“I don’t know but it’s just a little faster than the others,” the junior candidate select team member said.
This is a truly underrated sport. After the heats were finished there was a chin-up test where kids had to see how many they could do in 15 seconds. I did 3 and the highest total was 5 or 6.
Then there was the sit and reach and that saw participants stretching to see how far they could go with their legs down and extended and touching the wooden piece of apparatus. I notched an embarrassing –1. You had to hold it for three seconds so I was a –2 for a fleeting moment.
Then there was the chest pass where participants heaved a heavy ball. The boys had to toss 8 kilos (about 17 pounds) and the girls had to push 5. There was one kid that had a toss of 5.4 meters and I was impressed. I managed 6.3 meters which I later found out wasn’t a bad throw for an adult. In about a week that kid will be able to beat my toss for sure.
Verizon sponsored this part of a nine city “Slider Search” tour (which has been in existence for over 20 years now) that crosses the country while the team looks for boys and girls with potential. The ages they are searching for now are 11-14. To train with USA Luge national team coaches and athletes was awesome and for those that think their life is a snap. They were all practicing afterwards while they sweltered in the sun waiting for the second session. They snacked on “cheap” pretzels while they were waiting for some sandwiches to be delivered. They have given their life to the sport and I will watch it with a new set of eyes for sure.
The cost is $15 per youngster and includes a Verizon USA-Luge T-shirt. For complete information and to register for the Verizon-USA Luge Slider Search, visit www.usaluge.org or call 1-800-USA Luge. Registrants should arrive 15 minutes prior to the start of each clinic. (this is an older article so check to see if the cost has changed)