You’re in St. Moritz, Switzerland, barreling headfirst down the fastest bobsledding track in the world at speeds upwards of 90 mph, moving so fast you can feel the wind encasing you.
It’s strange to hear someone describe this experience with words like “calm” and “peaceful.”
But this is exactly how Winnetka resident and Olympic bobsledder Jamie Moriarty, 27, narrates the experience—and I think I’ll take his word.
Moriarty explains that because the track at St. Moritz is natural (constructed completely of ice), it is intensely quiet—almost silent—and allows for a complete immersion of the senses.
“Going down the last quarter of the track at St. Moritz you are going so fast, all you can hear is the wind; it is so calm and peaceful,” Moriarty says. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Not many people imagine becoming an Olympic bobsledder, but it may surprise you to know that even some Olympic bobsledders never imagined it either.
Jamie Moriarty is in that category.
Growing up, Moriarty played typical American sports—football, basketball and baseball. He excelled in football and played while in college at Cornell University and then professionally, until an elbow fracture forced him into early retirement. Moriarty was devastated. His life had been devoted to football, and suddenly he couldn’t play at all.
Before long, the itch to compete again began, and while watching the bobsledding competition of the 2006 Turino Winter Olympics, Moriarty had a “Eureka!” moment of sorts, thinking to himself: “I can do that.” After doing some research, he contacted the Olympic Federation, who invited him to test for the sport.
Now, 3 years later, Moriarty is a push athlete (he pushes the sled) for the Olympic team. For Moriarty and his teammates, bobsledding is a lifestyle; they practice the various courses (each track is completely unique) hundreds of times and maintain hectic schedules.
Moriarty even uses his iPhone to take videos of the courses, later using them to memorize the track and rehearse when to brake. Moriarty speaks with immense pride about the possibility of representing the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
Though he can hardly mask his excitement, it’s coupled with his anxiety that he may become injured or unable to find sponsors to help fund his training. Moriarty finds most people are clueless about the lack of monetary support for American amateur athletes; even those destined for Olympic gold.
In Moriarty’s personal Olympic Training Fund brochure, he writes: “Without the sponsors’ unwavering support, most Olympic hopefuls would not have the ability to compete; as unlike our fellow countries, the United States does not pay their athletes for their athletic endeavors.
Moriarty estimates that coaching, equipment, travel and living expenses can cost up to $30,000 a year.
That figure doesn’t even begin to cover the months throughout the year when Moriarty and teammates aren’t competing. Yes, bobsledders do train during the year, another common misconception.
“So many people think we just kind of ‘show up’ every 4 years for the Olympics, but we are actually in competition for six months out of every year,” Moriarty says.
Going from 6 months of competition to 6 months of downtime really takes its toll on the team, and in between competitions some struggle to make ends meet. Unlike their European counterparts, American bobsledders aren’t paid for their work. They have to take whatever jobs they can find to cover basic expenses—sometimes running up credit card debt in the process. Moriarty admits it’s difficult to plan for the future when you are only thinking 6 months ahead, and it’s frustrating to compete alongside international athletes for whom bobsledding is considered a career—and who are compensated accordingly.
These issues are particularly disheartening for Moriarty and fellow bobsledders because they truly love the sport and feel honored to compete as a team in the global arena.
And at its core, bobsledding is about working as a team.
Moriarty recalls a particularly fluid run down the track last year at St. Moritz.
Usually, he explains, “We all start pushing at the same time, but this time, one guy in our sled leaned a little sooner than expected.”
And, as if on autopilot, everyone adjusted to his premature timing and took off down the ice. Moriarty remembers it wasn’t until he was halfway down the track that he realized he was in the sled, going down a run. That mysterious kind of group intuition, he reveals, “becomes almost instinctual.”
Cool runnings, indeed.
What you can do to help:
If you are interested in helping Jamie in his pursuit for Olympic Gold please feel free to make checks payable to the Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association. Please do not put Jamie Moriarty’s name on the check, but instead enclose a letter that states that the contribution is intended for Jamie.
Jamie Moriarty U.S. Olympic Bobsled Fund
430 Greenwood Ave.
Glencoe, Illinois 60022
Scott W. Hansen
Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association
P.O. Box 581131
Salt Lake City, Utah 84158