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Maize bobsled tradition begins here

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, at 7:03 a.m.

Nicole Vogt's parents, Steve and Michelle, are Olympics buffs. They watch as much as they can on television and the event — whether it's curling or the finals of the 100-meter dash — doesn't matter.

"We love the international competition,'' Michelle Vogt said. "Watching people come together and competing at that high level.''

Little did they know how much their daughter, Nicole, was being transformed by all of her family's Olympic viewing. Doing so sparked a dream, one in which Nicole saw herself as a competitor for the U.S. Olympic team.

"Most athletes grow up having some big goal,'' said Nicole Vogt, a former three-sport athlete at Maize, where she graduated in 2005. "Baseball players want to pitch the ninth inning in the World Series. My dream was always the Olympics, doing whatever. I didn't care what the sport was.''

Well, the sport, it turns out, is bobsledding. And Vogt has spent much of the fall and will spend a lot of the winter in the U.S. Winter Olympic training facility in Lake Placid, N.Y., learning the nuances and preparing her body for the turmoil of careening down an icy track at 90 mph.

"I love to go fast,'' said Vogt, who is well aware she's not from a state that produces a ton of bobsledders.

Vogt is the brake person on her team and has her sights on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. There is a lot of time between now and then, and Vogt is a novice, still learning the dos and don'ts of bobsledding.

But she gave up her full-time job at an architectural firm in Frisco, Texas, so she isn't afraid of obstacles.

"Only people who are trying to live their dream would probably quit that kind of job,'' Vogt said. "But this all happened pretty quick this summer.''

She sent her athletic resume to the U.S. Olympic Committee and was invited to the combine in Lake Placid in the fall. She's training and competing until a break before Christmas, then will return to Lake Placid after the first of the year for three more months of training.

"This is definitely a blue-collar sport,'' Vogt said. "There is a lot of heavy lifting. I wouldn't say it's glamorous. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes dirty work that you do for four years leading up to that one moment where you have a chance to make the Olympic team and have your shot at participating in the Games.''

To get this far, Vogt had to endure a series of tests she said are much like what prospective NFL players go through before the draft.

"Lots of sprinting, jumping, weightlifting,'' Vogt said. "You have to score a minimum amount of points to make it to this point. It's a matter of speed and strength, really. You want to get the bobsled moving as fast as possible at the beginning of the race, so you need a lot of power.''

As the brake person, Vogt said, her primary jobs are to get the sled moving at the top of the hill and to pull the brake at just the right time when the bobsled has crossed the finish line.

"And I suppose to stay in the sled in between those two,'' she said, just a few days after some scary spills during competition in Calgary left her bruised and battered.

"When she first texted me and said she was thinking about trying out for the bobsled team, I texted her back and said, 'Are you serious?' " Michelle Vogt said. "Then I picked up the phone and called her and told her I thought it was awesome. After I saw the pictures of her sliding through Turn 9 at Calgary a while back I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty crazy.' She had a bruise the size of a dinner plate on her thigh.''

Her safety rests with the driver, Vogt said.

"I've been with some who are really good and it's such smooth sailing down the hill and so exciting,'' she said. "And there are others who are still learning about all of this, who are in the same boat as I am. I've had some crashes and survived. I guess it's all good. No serious injuries.''

Vogt was on the rowing team at Kansas State. The physical demands of rowing helped prepare her for bobsledding.

"Right now I'm just working on the basics, trying to learn as much as I can about the sport,'' she said. "And most every bobsledder here at Lake Placid is like me — they played other sports in college and came into this later in life. Some of them have grown into great bobsledders. Our rookie class for men and women is about 30 people and I would say that all of us are just trying to live our dream and compete for the United States.''

It's those times watching the Olympics on television, Vogt said, that had the most to do with the formation of her dream. The hours upon hours of watching the competition and the patriotism and camaraderie that came with it.

"It was one of those dreams I probably thought was unrealistic until it all started coming together,'' Vogt said. "I'm more gung-ho about this than ever and I'm just trying to get better each day. I get to wear the letters 'USA' on my back every day so I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure it's real. It's the experience of my lifetime. It really is.''

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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