PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — You wouldn’t think to find one of America’s winter Olympians training by pushing trucks in Africa, but then, Nate Weber — a Green Beret — isn’t your typical Olympian, and his bobsled team isn’t the typical Olympic team.
Piloted by gold medalist Justin Olsen, the four-man team, which also includes Chris Fogt and Carlo Valdes, is 75-percent military. (“I provide power, [Nate] provides speed. Carlo, he provides a mustache,” jokes Fogt, a captain in the Army.)
It’s a team that’s used to facing down unconventional challenges, and it’s now living under the most painful challenge of all: trying to go on after the stunning, unexpected death of pilot Steven Holcomb in May. But then, dealing with the unexpected is what these kind of men do best.
“Guys who are successful in the military on a high level, they have the same qualities as someone successful in bobsled, especially at the Olympic level,” Weber says. “Guys that are self-starters and do the right thing when no one else is looking.”
Weber and Fogt have had to do a lot of work when no one else was looking, training on deployments as vast and varied as Iraq, Africa and Afghanistan.
“It’s hard to find the time to train; that’s the biggest thing to overcome when you’re overseas,” Fogt says. “When I was at a range in Iraq, because of the heat I had to train early in the morning or at night really late. You can’t do sprints at one in the afternoon when it’s 125 degrees outside.”
“You’re making do with whatever you have, whether it’s dragging water cans to do weighted sprints, or pushing trucks, or pushing ATVs, things like that,” Weber says. “Whatever you have available, if it’s somewhat similar to pushing a bobsled, you go out and you say, ‘This is good enough,’ and you give 110 percent effort. Somehow it worked out for me, which was really lucky.”
Luck’s got nothing to do with it. The entire team works their tails off. Some perspective: the bobsled itself is 475 pounds. Weber sits in the second position, with Valdes and Fogt behind him. But before they hop into the sled, it’s their job to get this beast moving as fast as possible, racing down the ice and then leaping in as the sled approaches speeds of 25 miles per hour.
“You go from being a linebacker running like you’re trying to sack a quarterback, to a ballerina,” Fogt says. “You’ve got to get 900 pounds of man into that sled.”
From there, it’s Olsen’s job to pilot the sled, yanking on two D-rings with only a few feet of track visible in front of him at any time, and only a few runs to get used to the track’s layout. There are only 16 of these tracks in the entire world, and each one is completely different from the others.
The team is dealing with challenges beyond the normal Olympian hurdles. In addition to the heartbreak of losing Holcomb, Olsen had his appendix removed just days before the Games began. He insists he’s fine, but the team finished in the middle of the pack in both Wednesday training runs.
“I have some movements that still irritate my abdomen,” Olsen said Monday, where his two-man sled finished 12th. “Let’s say you do an all-out sprint, there’s some muscle groups that you need to get worked on and can’t, but that’s by no means a crutch.”
The four-man teams will begin their four heats on Saturday, closing out with the final heats on the final day of the Olympics. After that, they’ll have a chance to combine their Olympic and military backgrounds for a particularly potent voice.
“I have a little more platform than the average Special Forces guy, so I’m hoping I can do something good with that, like a fundraiser for the Green Beret Foundation,” Weber says. “I’m going to auction off a pair of gloves from the Games and hopefully make some money to support some families of guys who have given up their lives.”
“Olympic values and Army values are very closely aligned,” Fogt says. “Being in the Army gives us that bigger platform. We represent a lot of what makes America good, and we have a great opportunity.”