Former Barlow High star finds he has the right body type for the bobsled, and trains for 2014 Olympics
Sam Michener spent the 2012 track and field season as an assistant coach with the sprinters at the University of Idaho.
The position allowed him to stay in contact with his college program, while also getting a chance to maintain a strict training regime. His goal was to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials that summer.
In a matter of months, though, Michener's focus shifted to finding a spot in the Winter Olympics. Yes, the version with snow and ice.
The sports psychologist with the Vandals was a former member of the Trinidad and Tobago bobsled team. He insisted that Michener, 5-9 and 195 pounds, had the perfect body type for that sport.
He kept talking to me about it," Michener says, "so I finally sent in my resume, not expecting anything, and they responded immediately.
Michener, a former star athlete at Barlow High, was invited to Lake Placid, N.Y., to train with the U.S. team and learn the sport.
It was like walking into a science class and getting hit with a pop quiz on the first day of school.
He didnt know exactly what to expect, but he aced it.
At the 2012 U.S. Bobsledding Push Championships, he placed eighth out of 59 competitors, putting him solidly into the mix for one of the three U.S. teams that will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Micheners success as a sprinter and bulk from playing football were a perfect fit for the short bursts in bobsled where pushers make practice runs on train tracks that range from 5 to 30 meters in length. The national team headquarters attracts a collection of athletes, from former NFL players and track standouts to MMA fighters.
Its a pretty diverse group a bunch of speed athletes merging together to bobsled, he says. It takes up to four years to develop a good college sprinter, and that speed really helped. Basically, youre running on ice and pushing something. That speed allowed me to move up fast and make an immediate impact.
Special shoes covered in tiny spikes allow the pushers to gain traction on the ice. The four-man sled includes a pilot and a group of pushers who build speed before hopping over the side, ducking their heads and riding the rocket blindly down the course.
You push the sled, jump in and hand it all over to the pilot, he says You are trusting him to get you down safely.
Sam made more than 100 runs in his rookie season and crashed three times, avoiding any serious injury. He posted a YouTube video of one of those crashes as seen through his helmet camera. The bobsleds travel at about 85 miles per hour down the mountain perfect for someone who skydives and rides motorcycles.
Ive always been a thrill-seeking type of guy, so I figured Id mesh well into the sport, he says.
Michener is often the last one into the sled, meaning he has braking duties. Imagine searching the front seat of your car for a fallen coffee cup only to look up and see red lights. Its the same challenge for Michener.
He is riding with his head tucked between his legs, staring at the floor of the sled. In a sport where victory is measure in hundredths of a second, he cant afford to hit the brakes too early.
But too late is no good either. Much like a freight train, the bobsled requires three football fields to come to a stop on the ice.
Timing is essential for the brakeman.
Being smaller, I can get lower in the sled," he says. "You have to memorize the track. Youre basically going down with your eyes closed.
He had heard the common comparison to a roller-coaster ride, but nothing prepared him for his first live trip down the ice.
I just remember being nervous not knowing what to expect, he says. Its like being in a minute-long car accident with your head whipping back and forth and youre ribs are killing you. Ive made 100 trips down, and the thrill is still there.
Michener earned degrees in exercise physiology and biology at Idaho, but he is putting his career on hold while chasing an Olympic dream. His days at Lake Placid (northern tip of New York) are filled with training and sled repair in the team garage.
Its a lot like being in a dorm room, he says. Its eight hours of training every day. You are away from the world and very focused.