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A day in the life of a luger


Timber Wolf

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Timber Wolf

Hi everyone,

The call always hits me in winter. I suppose it's pretty common with retired athletes. It's luge season and something in my heart tells me I should be at the luge run. Although it's been years (over two decades, actually) since I've left the sport, I still feel the call. 

 

I probably should briefly explain luge for those who aren't familiar with this somewhat obscure winter sport. Luge (French for sled) is a winter sport featured in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, in which the athlete slides down an ice track on a small gravity powered sled in a supine position. When I participated in luge, there were only 3 kuntsban (artificial or man made) tracks, such as you've seen in the Olympics, in North America. One such track happened to be in Muskegon, Michigan, about 30 miles from my home.

 

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I'll describe a typical race Saturday for me back in the day:

 

Uhg, my alarm goes off in the wee hours of the morning. I drag myself out of bed, shower, eat breakfast, grab my gym bag with my equipment and head for my car.

 

It's a bright blue sky sunny morning as I turn northbound on highway M-37for about 10 miles before turning westbound on highway M-46, heading toward Muskegon and Lake Michigan. Already I see clouds on the western horizon. Lake affect snow along the lakeshore.

 

Driving along an open stretch of highway, low sheets of snow are blowing across the road. Finally, I turn left from Getty Street onto Lakeshore Drive for the last mile to the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. As I'm walking toward the lodge, I remember another year when the snow was so deep I walked through a plowed out path to the lodge, and the snow level was above my head. It was like walking down a hallway of snow. They sure had to work hard grooming the ski trails that year.

 

Inside the lodge I register for the race and get my bib number. Once I'm all attired, I head for the track to take my two practice runs. 

 

Up on the start ramp, I pull my sled forward and back a couple times, them give a mighty pull to get myself started down the run. Turn 1 is a small turn to the left. I come out of it lined up well for turn 2, a large curve to the right. This one is more critical. The track takes a dive downhill here, and I really pick up speed. I need to be lined up for the more treacherous turn 3.

 

Smoothly through turn 2, I'm lined up for turn 3 to the right. DRAT! I'm late. I'm way too high in the curve, and on the exit I cross the track and hit the wall hard, flipping over off my sled. I can smell the smoke coming from my outfit as I slide down the ice. Rather embarrassing, but at least it was only a practice run. 

 

2nd practice run, I'm through curve 3 much better. Curve 4, another big curve to the left this time goes well, followed in rapid succession by quick hitting curves 5 & 6. A nearly perfect run! I'll need two runs like that in the competition. I'm competing against two guys who've trained with the U.S. team for World Cup and the Olympics.

 

I'm lugging my 40 lb. sled back up the long stairs to the top of the track. Already, spectators are gathering, cow bells are ringing. Ooow, it's cold up here on top of this hill where the wind blows right off Lake Michigan. Finally, it's my turn. Sitting on my sled on the start ramp, the track is clear, the timer is reset, I've got 30 seconds to break the beam of the timer to start my run.

 

By races end, I've had two good runs. Not great runs, but good ones. I finished 4th. No medal. The old song says 1 is the loneliest number. Nope. 4th is.

 

We head back to the lodge for the medal ceremony. I can smell the wood smoke from the fireplace in the lodge. No medal today, but in 1993, I won the gold medal in the State Championships. Later that year, I also won the silver medal in the Midwest Regionals. My high water mark.

 

After turning in my bib number and having a cup of coco, it's time to start coaching. Today, I'm coaching for 4 hours on the lower start ramp of the competition track.

 

My 4 hours of coaching is now finished. It's time to train. I lug my 40 lb. sled to the top, take a run, lug the sled back up, down, up, down. The track is lit because it's gotten dark.

 

Finally, I'm exhausted. I'm the last one sliding. That last run was my last one for the night. But wait, a family just came to the track to watch. Okay, I'll lug this sled up for one more run so they can see someone slide. Besides, I love showing off!

 

It's around 11:00pm and I'm driving through Muskegon on my way home. I'm exhausted, and adrenaline is still flowing. The combination puts me in a euphoric state. Everything is right with my world. I'm happy. And tomorrow I'll be back training all day again!

 

There is one miserable thing about all of this. I've lost my body heat. I'm cold. I pile every blanket I have on me in bed. I still feel like a block of ice. I don't warm up. Not for a half hour or so. Still, this is my life. My world. I'm a luger, and I love it!

 

And that was a day in my life as a luger, over 25 years ago.

 

Lots of love,

Timber Wolf🐾

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Chloe Cozee

@Timber Wolf thank you for sharing! Athletes get a high when performing. It's a wonderful feeling! And being out in nature is always beautiful.

 

Hugs,

Chloe

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I've always loved that sport as a spectator.  I'm not a "winter" person. Hate the cold but I used to compete in downhill/dual slalom mountain biking. My day sounded just like yours minus the cold.  missing a turn was more catastrophic though.  Usually resulted in expensive repairs to the bike and me. lol My career ended at the NORBA finals in Mt Snow VT. Had an incredible first run in DS.  only .5 sec off the lead. This was the early days of MT bike racing and in gravity events there weren't "categories" of amature vs pro.  You either qualified or didn't.  I wasn't a "sponsored rider" so hanging with the elite through the first heat fired me up. So, back to the race, 2nd time down I'm really pushing my limits and feeling good. The crowd was cheering.  Half way through I could see in my peripheral vision I was neck and neck with a very well know rider!  The next set of flags I cut a little to close and brushed them with the front tire and my leg but got through.  Now I sprinted for the finish line and slammed on the brakes after crossing. The finish is just like in skiing where there isn't much room to stop.  Well, when I clipped that gate it damaged my front brakes so when I slammed them on it went right into the spokes and stopped the front wheel throwing me and the bike 20'   I woke up about 5 minutes later, my bike was trashed and I fractured some pieces of my back.  No spinal damage but a long recovery and some hardware.  30+ years later I still feel the call of the hill.  I understand you. (I only placed 6th that day)

 

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  • Forum Moderator

Thank you for sharing Timber Wolf. it sounds like your days were long and full of excitement.

 I spent some years competing in licensed bike racing(USCF).  Long road races required even longer training rides.  It took several years of very hard training before i was at all competitive.  At first i was alone, working against teams who tried to push others to the side.  Riding at 25 to 40 mph. in Lycra  shorts, 3 inches away from other riders could be intimidating especially when fighting to stay on the pavement.  In time i joined a team with my son.   My  did well until breaking bones in several races.  I was lucky, road rash,  bent wheels and some broken bikes. Riding was an obsession for years until a heart attack,  open heart surgery and an addiction to alcohol made riding impossible.  I guess the high point of my career was winning the state championship in a tandem time trial.  That bike as well as my last road bike hang in the barn.  I do miss riding but today my heart makes riding very difficult at best.  Wonderful memories!

 

Hugs,

 

Charlize

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  • Forum Moderator

That was a wonderful description of a day on the mountain.  Thank you!  I could almost feel the sled as you barreled down the course.  It reminds me of day out on the track in my car.  Get up wicked early, tow hours away, unload, register, drivers meeting, staging, Go!  Trying to hit all the apexes just right.  Smooth in smooth out!  

 

What an exciting sport you participated in.  Great memories forever!

Cheers, 

Jani

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@Timber Wolf This was a lovely read, and thank you for sharing! You're inspiring me to take my annual cross-country ski trip into New England. I feel like it's been bone dry this January, so there won't be much snow anywhere even though Google suggests I might be okay.@Jani maybe you can confirm since you're up that way? Thanks!

 

Love,

~Audrey.

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  • Forum Moderator

Hi @AudreyI'm in southern NH and snow is pretty non-existent here.  Not much further up north due to warm spells and rain we've had.  I imagine ski areas are making snow but I don't know how much they work on cross country trails.  You'd probably have to go pretty far north to get consistent coverage at state parks and trails.

 

Jani  

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