I’d like to start with a song….. (It works best to sing these words to the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies……Here in case you forgot what it sounds like, try this link.)
“Come and listen to my story about a man and his sled,
Sliding down a track there’s a curve straight ahead.
Missed his steer and what did he do?
Bounced off the wall and gotta Luge Tattoo!
A bruise that is. Purple and Blue.”
Today’s post is about Luge.
Ok, first some business. I joke a lot about luge and danger and crashes and bruises. Its a sport, and like any sport there is a learning curve. Going up the learning curve includes making mistakes. But heck, I’ve hurt myself learning to play hockey. And I certainly have hurt myself learning to mountain bike. So take some of this in the spirit it is intended ;). Second thing. My family’s experience with the US Luge Association and the Adirondack Luge Club has been a highlight of our time in Potsdam. Again there have been bruises, and tears, but there have been many more exciting things that have happened to make it all more than worthwhile.
Usually the first question people have when they hear that Bailey and I slide (BTW. It’s called sliding. Bailey and I are sliders, not lugers.) is: “Which one is Luge?” OK. That’s easy. Feet first, on your back. Here is a picture to help with the visual.
That’s me in Park City Utah last year at the 2012 Master’s National Championships. (Worth noting, not “Olympic class” positioning on my sled. Head up too much, toes need to be pointed, but I am getting there.)
Usually there are two more questions. They could go in either order: 1. Isn’t it scary. 2. How did you get into Luge? Today’s post is about the second question. How I got into Luge.
It’s Bailey’s fault!
In case you didn’t get the memo. Luge is a bit of a niche sport. There are three tracks in the US. One in Park City Utah, one in Muskegan Michigan, and one in Lake Placid New York. So not many people live in places where they could slide (even if they wanted to ;)). Most people are exposed to Luge once every 4 years during the Olympics. That means that the folks at the US Luge Association have to go out and find kids to train to become Olympians.
Bailey was 10 when we saw a flier for something called a “Slider Search”. Slider Searches are clinics that USLA runs where they put wheels on luge sleds, go to hills, and teach kids the basics of how to steer a sled. It’s a lot of fun to watch a slider search, much in the same way as its kind of fun to watch kids sliding on snow. There are crashes, but they are usually tame and pretty much everyone has a great memorable time. USLA takes kids from the slider searches and invites them up to Lake Placid for a 1 week on ice camp. At the camp the kids stay at the Olympic Training Center (where current and future Olympic Athletes stay to train), get instruction from the USLA coaches (former sliders, and many former Olympians), and get to slide on the actual luge/bobsled track in Lake Placid. Bailey signed up for the slider search in the town next to ours.
Bailey did well at the slider search and was invited up to a screening camp when he was 11. It was a great week for him. He met a lot of very cool people (current athletes, the womens world champion Erin Hamlin included, coaches, future athletes) and loved the experience. USLA uses the camps to determine which kids they will invite into the pipeline program for the National Team. Bailey was not invited into the pipeline program, but we found out about something called the Adirondack Luge Club. Yes boys and girls, there is a luge club (actually there are 3 luge clubs in the US. Can you guess where they are?) that allows civilians like you and me to slide down the track on a sled.
Bailey joined the club the following winter (his camp was in the late spring) and Coreen and I became “Luge Parents”.
What’s it like to be a luge parent? We have friends who are soccer parents and hockey parents. In many ways being a luge parent is much more, umm, well its just more. Here is a typical day in a luge parents life. We travel to the track in Lake Placid (about 1.5 hours away for us). The training sessions are about 2 hours long. You stand outside to watch. And its usually cold (or VERY cold). Night or early morning. There is windchill involved. You stand by a spot on the track and see your child for about 2 seconds as they zip past every 30 minutes or so.
(Yep, that’s pretty much what you get to see, every half hour or so.)
You listen for your kids when they are called. Watch carefully, are excited when they make it through cleanly, and cringe when they hit a wall. There are other luge parents and its fun/social to be with them at the track. You watch for their kids and grimace in understanding when/if their kids hits a wall and cheer for them when they finish. Then you get to drive home. That’s pretty much it. Cold, kind of social.
But guess what? There are adults in the luge club who slide. Yup. People of all ages. People with brittle bones.
After a winter of standing around, I was ready to try it. It looked easy.