Oh what fun it is to ride in an 80-mile-an-hour sleigh.
Growing up in sunny Douglasville, warm-weather enthusiast Elana Meyers never thought she’d be singing that song, but things change.
After sledding to a bronze medal in 2010 and excelling in World Cup competition, Meyers is a good bet to drive the two-woman bobsled team for the U.S. when the Sochi Winter Olympics begin Feb. 7.
This month, Meyers, 29, and brakeman Lolo Jones finished second at World Cup races in Winterberg, Germany, one-hundredth of a second behind first-place Germany, though U.S. teams failed to medal in later competition at St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Meyers fell in love with the Olympics when the Games came to Atlanta in 1996. A nationally ranked softball shortstop, she hoped to play that sport in the 2008 games until softball was eliminated from the Olympic program. Instead of pouting, Meyers switched gears, taking up the bobsled and learning quickly. Two years later, she won a bronze in Vancouver.
Competition is obviously in her blood: Her father, former Atlanta Falcons running back Eddie Meyers, encouraged athletics.
Between runs at Winterberg she recently took time to answer a few questions by email:
Q. You started out as a pusher, and now you’re a driver. How much harder is driving?
A. As a driver, I study tracks continuously. I know every curve of every track in the world and how to drive it. It’s my responsibility to get down the track as quickly and safely as possible, and it’s a lot of responsibility. The transition from brakeman to driver wasn’t easy at all, but I learned behind the best drivers in the world as a brakeman for them — so that gave me an advantage.
Q. The bobsled is a lot more dangerous than softball. Do you get scared during competition, or before-hand? And how do you deal with fear?
A. I think any bobsledder who says they aren’t a little fearful is lying. Our sport is very dangerous! You’re only ever one crash away from never competing again. But that’s the great thing about bobsled. Daily, we have to face our fears and throw caution to the win and go for it. I love it! I don’t consider myself a dare-devil (I get sick on swings). But the fact that every day I get to push myself to new limits is awesome.
Q. Do you have any traditions or rituals before a run?
A. I pray! There’s so many things in bobsled that you can’t control, it just makes sense to me to pray before, mostly for safety and that God’s work be done. Also I listen to music and I like to talk and have fun. I try to talk to my competitors and just stay relaxed and have fun.
Q. Those sleds are expensive ($100,000 a pop). Have you ever dinged one up?
A. Dinged one up? Well, as a bobsledder, you have to find the fastest line down the track, and you have to take risks to do so. Sometimes you crash; sometimes you hit walls. So yes, I guess you can say I’ve dinged them up. Fortunately, we have awesome mechanics who put the sleds back together.
Q. You are competing on a team with Lolo Jones in Winterberg. You’ve successfully been paired with Aja Evans. How important is having a partner who is attuned to your rhythms?
A. For a high pressure situation like the Olympics, it’s important. You want to make sure you’re on the same page and rhythm, and that you’re in sync at the start. Every time I switch brakeman, I want to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible with me. So I work on developing that rhythm with them. Once we’re in the sled though, we don’t communicate so there isn’t much interaction there. It’s more about you being confident in your brakeman, and your brakeman being confident in you.
Q. Do you practice by visualizing the course?
A. Of course! We only get two runs a day (trips down the track), so we have to do a lot of our work through visualization. We have to memorize all the curves and how to drive them, and this is at 80-plus mph! It’s a lot to do in a little time and sometimes our driving adjustments are minor. In order to be consistent, you have to have that course memorized and that happens through visualization.
Q. How important is weight-training in your regimen?
A. Weight-training is huge in our sport. We train like Olympic sprinters and Olympic lifters to move the sled (it’s over 350 pounds) off the start as fast as possible. We run and lift most days of the week, mostly focused on developing strong lower body and explosiveness. Mostly squats, power cleans, jerks — things like that.
Q. You’re not fond of cold weather. Are you getting used to it yet?
A. Definitely not! I hate the cold! You never really get used to it. You just deal with it and layer up! Lol. I love my sport, and I’ll deal with any amount of cold in order to have that feeling of flying that I feel when I’m in a bobsled.
Q. You’ve worked part-time jobs in Atlanta to help cover expenses – what are you working at now and what sort of jobs have you held?
A. This year, I took off from working to focus on my training and prepare for the Olympics. This upcoming summer, I’ll be on the job search again, trying to find anything to pay the bills and support my bobsled career. I’ve worked as a personal trainer and a substitute teacher previously, and this past summer I did a little bit for General Electric, writing fitness and health blogs. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep competing in the sport I love. It’s expensive, so I know working odd jobs to earn some money is part of it.
Q. Does your father ever offer advice about training and competing in the bobsled (even though the bobsled is a long way from football)?
A. Of course! He mostly helps from a sport psychology perspective. He understands what it was like to be an elite athlete, so whether it’s being an athlete and working or family issues or nutrition, he helps me all along the way. I can always call both of my parents (Eddie and Jan Meyers) whenever I need a pick-me-up, and they can relate to what I’m going through. They’re my biggest supporters.
The first competitions can be viewed on NBC February 6, even though the opening ceremonies are February 7. Broadcasts run through February 23. The Paralympics take place two weeks later, March 7-16.