It looked easy. Yup. After a winter of watching people plummet down the luge track it looked easy. Just like Better Off Dead: “Go that way real fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”
Luge tracks have starts located at different heights on the track. The start you are at dictates how much of the track you slide on and how fast you go. Where you start from depends on how good you are. In Lake Placid they have 4 starts they use most frequently: Start 5 (the “tourist start”, about 30-35 mph fastest speed), Start 4 (“junior” start, about 50-58 mph fastest speed), start 3 (“ladies/doubles” start, 70-75 mph), start 1 (“men’s” start, 80-85 mph). You start at the bottom and move up as the coaches feel that you are good enough.
At the end of the season I and another “luge parent” signed up for a “Try Luge” night. “Try Luge” is a way that you can get onto a sled, on the track, without having to go through all the paperwork needed to be a regular slider. And so in April, there I was, gearing up to get onto a luge sled on the track.
I had one goal for that night. And no, it was not to not crash. It was actually to not crash in the spot where people watch (the chicane). That was my one goal. Don’t give the spectators the chance to go “Oh, ouch, yikes!”
All I remember about that first run is getting on my sled, steering to stay off the wall in the chicane, and finishing. I don’t really remember anything about the track. I don’t remember the turns. I do remember it was a lot of fun. And so an over the hill, hack luge athlete was born. (I also remember the other parent, Hi Amy ;), laughing and cursing as she slide down the track. It was one of the funniest moments I have ever experienced out on the mountain.)
(Throwing one down in the Fat Cyclist biking kit. Probably one of the more unique uses of that gear, ever.)
My first full year a sliding was marked by a couple of things. Right around Christmas I thought it was time to move from the tourist start up to the junior start. That’s not particularly remarkable, but it did lead to a slight problem at my house. Bailey was sliding in something called the Empire State Games (a local winter Olympics kind of event). One night I said something at dinner to the effect that if I was sliding well from the junior start I would sign up to race ESG. Bailey’s head popped up and he said “Why do you need to be sliding well to sign up?” “Well I don’t to embarrass myself.” And that was all took, I was done…..
“You told me that it didn’t matter how well I was sliding, I should just enter into any competition I could. You told me that it would be a ‘good learning experience’. You told me to take advantage of whatever track time I could get.” Coreen was no help. She was practically in tears. The next day I was entered in the race. Here I am in the Empire State Games….
I did pretty good. (i.e. Didn’t finish last. Isn’t that a great metric!)
The rest of the winter was filled with traveling up the learning curve. There were good runs, and there were bad runs. There were bruises and there were laughs. Then the end of the season came. And there was the “Masters National Championship”. What was the Masters like? OK. So picture this. Here I am, 41 years old and brand new to sliding. The field? Well people from the club who had been sliding from a couple to many years, and then some former national team members and a former world class and highly decorated Olympic slider. Here I am desperately trying to learn how to start courtesy of my friend Jeff Stratton so as not to embarrass myself.
Wait what about the race? What happened? Here are visuals help…
That’s me on the left. And Duncan Kennedy on the right. Notice anything different about our styles? Who do you think was faster?
BUT hey look at this…..
The thing I want to point out here: the giant FINISH sign. I made it to the finish on both runs.
My two favorite memories from that year come from Masters. The first was getting to slide with Duncan. I have enjoyed sliding with all of my friends from the luge club. They are a blast. But sliding with Duncan was special. Duncan is really really good. But he is also really helpful and a lot of fun to spend time with. It was an honor to have my rear kicked by him (also he kicked everyone’s rear so I was in good company. BTW. I wasn’t last in this race either). The other was having a woman, who I didn’t recognize, ask me for advice on how to slide the track. I figured she was a newbie like me and tried to help as I could. Her times were slow (slower than mine) during practice. Right until the last practice run when she burned up the track. WTF? Yeah, former Olympian. I was telling a former Olympian how to slide? How stupid was that?
One more thing before I go. Last time I said that I am usually asked 3 questions when people hear that I luge (What is luge? How did you get started? Isn’t it scary?). I already answered the first two in the last post. So what’s left? Isn’t it scary……Humm.
Well I could answer that question a couple of ways. The melodramatic way. “Luge is so fast. Luge is so dangerous. Luge is terrifying” etc. etc. Its easy to build on that perception and build up the daring death defying perception of the sport. Or there is the machismo way. “I have faced my fear and put it down.” (That’s total crap, IMHO. Anyone who slides and says they are not afraid is deluding you or themselves or has a real death wish.) Or I could answer the honest way.
Yes luge is scary. I get a little bit sick to my stomach every time I go out to the track and suit up. I get that feeling when I am on my sled waiting to start. (Really I don’t enjoy getting or healing bruises, really.) Its kind of the same scary I get when I am on my bike at the top of a very long steep downhill. Or when I am at the top a a black diamond ski trail. Its also the kind of sick that I get before a bike race. But I think that’s good. In luge you need to respect the track, you need to respect the speed, you need to focus or you really are going to get hurt. And that is the appeal to me. Luge is a lot of fun. Its all of the things you would expect (fast, exhilarating, etc.). But its a sport that allows me to focus and be totally in the moment. That’s very very different from the kind of mountain bike racing I have been doing or am training for (where you need to ignore what is going on and release yourself from the moment just to keep going).
So that’s my first year in a nutshell. Next time. My first year on a racing sled (or why I was nicknamed “Thunder”).