US Olympic bobsledder to work on Japan's recovery

TIM REYNOLDS - AP Sports Writer
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2007, file photo, Steven Holcomb, front, and pusher Brock Kreitzburg, of the United States, react in the finish area of the second run of the bobsled World Cup in Berchtesgaden, Germany. They placed fourth and won the overall World Cup title. Kreitzburg, now retired from bobsledding, is leaving his Los Angeles home on Thursday, April 21, 2011, for an 11-hour flight to Japan, where he plans to spend three months working on recovery efforts following the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that killed more than 13,000 and has left at least another 14,000 missing. (AP Photo/Diether Endlicher, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2007, file photo, Steven Holcomb, front, and pusher Brock Kreitzburg, of the United States, react in the finish area of the second run of the bobsled World Cup in Berchtesgaden, Germany. They placed fourth and won the overall World Cup title. Kreitzburg, now retired from bobsledding, is leaving his Los Angeles home on Thursday, April 21, 2011, for an 11-hour flight to Japan, where he plans to spend three months working on recovery efforts following the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that killed more than 13,000 and has left at least another 14,000 missing.

Just as he did when he was part of the U.S. bobsled team, Brock Kreitzburg is packing energy bars, meal supplements and a week's worth of clothes into a duffel bag for a journey to a foreign land.

For this trip, he's also got some new accessories: an earthquake kit and a radioactivity detector.

The 2006 Olympian and retired bobsled push athlete is leaving his Los Angeles home on Thursday for an 11-hour flight to Japan, where he plans to spend three months working on recovery efforts following the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that killed more than 13,000 and has left at least another 14,000 missing.

"My faith plays an enormous part in my everyday life," Kreitzburg said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think I'm more nervous than anything else. I've had such a strong desire to go over. The more that happens, the more I want to go over and serve the people over there. I raised $6,000 for this in four weeks. I couldn't raise $6,000 in four years bobsledding."

Kreitzburg has been working for a nonprofit company, although holding down an office job didn't quite satisfy his need for action. Bobsledders by nature tend to be thrill-seekers, and after injuries finally forced him to retire from the sport, Kreitzburg found many jobs working as a stuntman in Hollywood.

This trip is no stunt.

In Kreitzburg's eyes, it couldn't be more real.

"Olympians do give back and it's not always about take, take, take, for us," Kreitzburg said. "We understand how fortunate we have been and now it's an opportunity for me to give back. There are many athletes out there in their communities serving, though there is not much news about it. I hope to serve as an example of what we do after the games."

Although he doesn't exactly know what to expect, Kreitzburg will be working amid widespread devastation in northern Japan, and has been told not to count on basic services like running water. And radiation leaks, part of the massive failure of cooling and power systems at a nuclear plant, are a constant worry.

He will be working as a volunteer, and expenses are a concern. He's able to make the trip partly because he found an easily affordable round-trip flight — $51.30. Kreitzburg said Alaska Airlines donated air miles toward relief efforts, and he was able to get enough of those to essentially get a free ticket.

He's only paying taxes and fees.

"To me, that's a sign," Kreitzburg said.

Nonetheless, some members of Kreitzburg's family have tried to talk him out of the trip, fearing for his safety. Even Kreitzburg will acknowledge that he is not yet mentally prepared to see the sort of devastation, grief and anguish that await him in Japan, a country he has never before visited.

He has been studying the language and customs, trying to pick up the absolute basics for communication.

"They are very proud people," Kreitzburg said. "I want to help."

This is not the first time Kreitzburg has felt compelled to join disaster relief efforts. He applied for work in Haiti following the earthquake that devastated the Port-au-Prince region there last year.

And he's not the only part of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation to feel compelled to act following the Japan disaster. One of the U.S. team chiropractors, Tetsuya Hasegawa, is from Japan and has been raising funds to assist with the relief effort through a group called Operation Hope for Japan.

"A lot of teams are doing things to help," USBSF spokeswoman Amanda Bird said.

The way Kreitzburg sees it, he's simply joining a new team.

An athlete his entire life, Kreitzburg was in training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999, turned his attention to bobsledding in 2002, and represented his country in the Turin Games four years later, helping the U.S. to a seventh-place finish in the four-man event.

Chronic hip problems — doctors once told him he'd be wheelchair-bound within a decade — eventually forced him out of the sport, and he still deals with pain on a daily basis.

It's not stopping him from going to work long hours in Japan.

"I have to be a hands-on, helping-people, be-interactive person," Kreitzburg said. "I've always been like that."

He's aligning with a group known as CRASH — the acronym stands for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope — once he gets to Japan, though he said several organizations are joining forces to tackle whatever they can as a collective unit.

He'll also be writing a blog for the U.S. Olympic Committee, hoping to update it every few days while in Japan.

"I honestly don't know what I'm getting myself into," Kreitzburg said. "I really, really don't. There's a little bit of a walk of faith that I'm doing, like 'OK God, I really don't know what I'm getting myself into.' It's going to be a learning experience for me and this is something, relief-type work in other countries, that I want to do for the rest of my life."

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Online:

CRASH Japan site: http://www.crashjapan.com/

Operation Hope for Japan: http://www.operationhopeforjapan.org/