Last weekend I was in Lake Placid for my final luge runs of the season. It was also the last two seeding races of this winter for the National Team. These races are used to determine who will represent the US in the Olympics next year. I was an official for those races. Saturday morning after the races finished I had breakfast with a couple of people from the luge club who also officiated the races and with a team alum, Cynthea Wight Hausman. We got to talking about changing the way people look at luge, changing the words that people use to describe it.
Here try this. What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of luge?
If you are like many people you might think, and say, that luge is just plain crazy. You might even say the people who do it are insane.
But that’s not really true. The picture above is Julia Clukey from the 2010 Olympics. Let me tell you something about Julia. After the Olympics she had an operation to fix a problem with her neck. It was something that was keeping her from being as strong and good as she could be. She did not race for a year, dedicated herself to rehabilitation, getting stronger and being a better slider. This year she came back and had her best year of her career capping it off with a silver medal at the World Cup race in Lake Placid. Julia is not crazy. She is a hard working, dedicated athlete. I got to know here just a little bit last winter when she was rehabbing, and she has my admiration for her dedication.
To most people watching someone slide past at 80-90 mph on a sled looks insane. But what they are seeing is the end result of years of work to perfect a sport. When you get into something like luge a little more you see the kids who start out and progress from little 8 or 9 year olds learning how to do something to teens to Olympic class athletes. Yes it would be simply crazy for you to do this. Heck, it would be crazy for me, even though I know how to slide a little bit, to try sliding at the speeds these athletes do. I’m not that skilled, and the odds me me doing it safely at those speeds are low. I would get hurt, that would be crazy. But for them their dedication has given them the skill and ability to drive a sled half an inch away from a wall at 90 mph. You might not think luge is something you would dedicate your life to. That’s fine, but be careful not to minimize the effort that people put into their craft.
Riding in the Leadville Trail 100 is kind of the same thing. Crazy would be showing up at the starting line without having properly prepared for the race. Crazy would be not taking the time to learn how to ride a mountain bike. We are somewhat responsible, we play the crazy angle up. If you watch the trailer for the Leadville movie you will see quotes from people who rode in the race. Look at the words they used: Stupid, Ridiculous, Hell. It makes for good drama. It appeals to the voyeur in all of us. Lets watch these crazy people.
I am not crazy for riding in Leadville. I spend a lot of time each week riding and getting stronger. After we had breakfast on Saturday I went on a training ride. It was 24 degrees outside, it snowed the night before. The easy thing I wanted to do was go someplace warm for the day and chill. But I spent that time so that I can get on my bike and ride for 103 miles at 10,000-12,000 ft elevation. You might not think that sounds like fun (sometimes its not), but its not really crazy. I do this because I want to see how good I can be, how strong I can be, how far I can go.
I do this because I want to learn about myself. And that’s decidedly not crazy.