The first time Jamie Greubel went down a bobsled run, she remembered thinking it might also be her last.
“It felt like a car accident,” she said of the 2007 adventure. “It was a major shock to my body.”
|Jamie Greubel poses for her 2013-14 U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton
Yet Greubel, a former Cornell heptathlete who was going to graduate school at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., kept thinking about her experience long after she left the bobsled track at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Though her college track career was over, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her life as an athlete. So when a former Cornell teammate, who joined the U.S. men’s bobsled program, suggested she might be a good fit for the sport, she decided to check it out. That led to her thrilling ride with one of the U.S. drivers.
Later that year, the same driver needed a brakeman for her two-person sled in a couple of races and called Greubel to see if she were interested.
“And I said, ‘You know what, here’s that knock at my door again,’” she recalled. “I was like, ‘I’ll give it another shot.’”
She traveled to Park City, Utah, and Calgary, Alberta, in Canada, for the races and got hooked on competing again.
“I definitely knew that’s what I wanted to pursue when I was done with grad school,” she said.
Since earning a master’s degree in elementary education and beginning full-time training, Greubel has had her ups and downs. She was an alternate as a brakeman for the U.S. Olympic Team that competed in Vancouver in 2010, and then made the transition to driver, learned new skills and climbed the ranks.
Throughout her journey, she also has struggled financially and worked as a waitress (among other things) to finance her bobsled habit and pay off student loans. She also had to battle back from a torn ACL two years ago.
But now, with the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games underway in February, Greubel, 30, is having her finest season. She’s on a fast track to the Winter Games in the USA-2 sled.
She and brakeman Emily Azevedo finished first over the final two races of the U.S. team trials at Park City in October to cement her spot behind Elana Meyers and ahead of Jazmine Fenlator in the three-driver American lineup for the world cup season.
Since then, Greubel – racing with a variety of brakemen – has been a podium regular. She was second in Calgary, had second- and third-place finishes in Park City and a third-place showing at Lake Placid.
She’s the No. 3 driver in the FIBT two-woman rankings for 2013-14, behind teammate Meyers and Canada’s Kaillie Humphries. The United States is guaranteed one spot for the women’s event in Sochi but can qualify up to three sleds based on points in the international circuit.
|Katie Eberling (L) and driver Jamie Greubel smile after finishing
third in the women's bobsled competition at the 2013 IBSF Bobsled
& Skeleton World Cup Nov. 30, 2013 in Calgary, Alberta.
It’s a big leap for Greubel from last season, when she won just one world cup medal — which just happened to be the first of her driving career.
“It’s really been a nice surprise,” she said.
Yet the word surprise makes it sound as if Greubel fell into success. That’s hardly the case.
Over the past year, she ditched the waitressing gigs to focus entirely on training. Now, with four years experience as a driver and better equipment — thanks to the BMW North America sled project — she feels as if she’s taken a big step forward. She said the BMW sled much better suits her driving style.
Greubel is known for being ultra competitive — she once wrote a blog about how she and her brother spent their childhood trying to beat each other at everything (which often led to “someone bleeding or crying”) — but said learning to manage that competitive instinct has helped her develop as a driver.
She’s learned that posting the best time in practice means nothing. Learning in practice means everything.
“So in training I’m really working on my driving and improving on things and using that time to make changes in my driving,” she said. “And then on race day I’m able to switch into straight attack mode or competition mode. I think that’s why I’ve also been able to be successful on race day.”
Plus, she has hundreds of more runs in her mental bank from where to draw.
“Sliding is unlike any other sport,” she said. “You can really only learn by doing it. Definitely, you learn by making mistakes.”
For Greubel, sports always have been an enormous part of her life. Her mother died when she was 3, and she said sports was a way to help fill that void. Being on a team always felt like being a part of a bigger family. Though her father remarried when she was in the fourth grade and her siblings and extended family have always supported her, she said she thinks about her mother every day.
“I just miss my mom like crazy,” she said.
If Greubel gets a chance to compete in Sochi, she’s likely to have a large group of family there to support her, including her dad, brother, aunt, uncle and cousin. Her fiancé, German brakeman Christian Poser, also could be competing in Sochi, too.
She had no expectations going into this pre-Olympic schedule. She only knew that she was better prepared than ever before.
“I’m doing what I’m doing today because I love it, not because it’s easy and not because I’m making any money doing it,” she said. “The Olympics is the ultimate thing that you can compete in in sports. So for me, I wasn’t ready to stop until I reached the top.”
Even though that first bobsled run felt like a “car accident,” she didn’t hit the brakes.
“I’m glad I followed my heart to get to this point,” she said.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.