Olympic spirit rallies with speedy trip around bobsled track

Mar 28 2011 - 1:01am

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Photo courtesy Utah Olympic Park
Michelle Thurgood stands with her bobsledding team at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. The bobsled pilot was Landon Phillips (right). Top speed was 79.87 mph.
Photo courtesy Utah Olympic Park
Michelle Thurgood stands with her bobsledding team at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. The bobsled pilot was Landon Phillips (right). Top speed was 79.87 mph.

Some kids get allowances, others are paid for their grades. Most of the time, I fall in neither category.

However, thanks to the Ken Garff Keys to Success program, I recently got to do something that more than compensated for all the lost years of free cash -- winter bobsledding at the Utah Olympic Park.

The auto company's program helps motivate and acknowledge high school students in their academic achievements. When I received a Keys to Success prize from one of my teachers, I carefully evaluated all the possibilities, wary of wasting my reward. The opportunity to whiz down a frozen track on a bobsled was appealing so I happily chose that.

After waiting months to take advantage of my prize, I finally got to experience the same feeling as an Olympian. I had butterflies as my dad and I drove up to Park City for my ride.

As we waited for orientation, we walked around the George Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum. Looking at the exhibits brought back cherished memories of watching the Olympics as a little kid. When I picked up a 40-pound curling stone, it was fun to remember being a second-grader and eating Chex Mix as a friend and I watched a curling match with my parents.

It was fascinating to see the artifacts from the opening and closing ceremonies and to picture the grandeur of the vivid performance all over again. The gleaming medals in the display case returned all the yearning of wanting my favorite athletes to win and the inspiration I felt as the national anthem was played. Feeling the Olympic spirit again added to the anticipation of my bobsled ride.

At orientation, the instructors told us about the procedures required when riding and what we could expect to happen. Everyone had to sign a contract stating that they understood they could be injured or even killed on their bobsled ride. Now, my excitement level started to do a nose dive toward China. The prospect of safely flying down the track sounded phenomenal but the thought of skidding down as a crumpled lump near a capsized sled sounded horrifying. I tried thinking that if many people died the sport wouldn't be allowed, which helped me muster up a little extra courage to continue.

We loaded on a bus and headed to the top of the track. There we fit our helmets and anxiously waited in our bobsled teams for our turn. My team consisted of the driver, two men and myself. The men were from out of state and already knew each other. They were constantly teasing and talking about how our team was going to be the fastest. It added entertainment and a positive atmosphere to the wait.

Finally it was Team 6's turn! My heart was pounding as I put on my snug red helmet and filed into the white bobsled. The park staff helped situate us in the correct positions, and I grinned as the sled slowly started to rumble down the chilly track. In an instant the sled was speeding down the course and zipping around the curves with tremendous force. I was instantly breathless! Everything was a blur as the sled whipped us around corner after corner, knocking my helmet into the sides of the sled.

And in the blink of an eye the ride was over. We had streaked down the track in less than one minute, going almost 80 miles per hour with five G forces pushing on our bodies. The feeling was exhilarating -- and it was a relief to know I was still alive! A few minutes after the ride ended my head started to pound and my stomach lurched into my throat. Maybe it was because the sled had gone so fast that my body had barely caught up. All I could think about after the ride was how cool it was and how indescribable it felt.

The momentary rattle of the sled, the whistle of the whipping wind, and the instant blur of the world was worth every hour of sleep I lost doing homework and every penny I was never paid. It was a feeling I've never had before. It was a rush of emotion and senses that no other recipe could concoct.

I recommend a bobsled ride to every thrill-seeking adventurer out there. Put it on your bucket list and have the most dazzling ride of your life!

Michelle Thurgood is a junior at Syracuse High School. She enjoys doing gymnastics and laughing. E-mail her at kaprirocks@gmail.com.

 IF YOU GO

* You must be 16 or older for the winter bobsled, which runs on an ice-covered track. To ride the summer boblsed, a device on wheels that runs on a dry track, you must be 14 or older.

* You must be in good physical health.

* You must pre-register online at www.olypark.com/uop/rides.asp or at 435-658-4200. Winter rides are $200; summer rides are $100.

* The Utah Olympic Park is located at 3419 Olympic Parkway, Park City.

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