Alumnus West chasing Olympic dream
What started as a whim while watching the 2010 Winter Olympics has transformed into a worldwide whirlwind for Baker University alumnus Greg West, ’09, as he chases his dream of representing the United States in the 2014 Games next February in Sochi, Russia.
Gentle prodding and a challenge three years ago from friends prompted West to log onto the USA Bobsled and Skeleton website to learn more about the Olympic sport of skeleton. Racers speed down a track head first with their chin a sliver above the ice, averaging 70 miles per hour.
“While watching the skeleton competition, my buddies said, ‘Hey, Greg, you should give that a try,’” said West, who majored in sports administration and is from Springfield, Mo. “I Googled skeleton racing, completed an online recruitment form and did not think a thing about it until a few weeks later when I received an email from a USA skeleton coach who thought I had the attributes to give the skeleton a try.”
Just beginning his first real job for a marketing company in Pensacola, Fla., and less than a year removed from his college days, West dropped everything, bought a plane ticket and plunked down $800 to attend skeleton school. Relying on personal savings, odd jobs and small contributions has sustained the self-funded athlete. West, always looking for more resources to assist his pursuit of his Olympic dream, raced internationally with Team USA six weeks into his newfound passion and has competed in the European Cup, Intercontinental Cup and World Cup, spanning Germany, Austria, France, Norway and Latvia in addition to the United States.
He receives his mail at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he will soon prepare for the trials with a regimen of weight lifting, deep squats, power clean snatches and sprint workouts.
“The coaches were looking for explosive athletes who played football, soccer and rugby,” said West, who noted he was a former Wildcat football player on his registration form. “The skeleton coaches prefer athletes who have completed some college or have a degree. If you think you can show up for tryouts and will be in the Olympics you are mistaken. A high percentage of us won’t go to the Games and they want to make sure you have something to fall back on.”
Already qualified to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in October, West is ranked ninth nationally. He is challenging for one of the three U.S. skeleton spots for the Games.
“The goal is to keep a clear mind over the next few months and eliminate distractions,” he said. “I have to peak mentally and athletically in preparation for the Games. I think coming from behind in the rankings is lot easier than holding onto a spot because you have nothing to lose.”
West depends on his days at Baker to prepare mentally. He remembers the message in Kathy Allen’s sports psychology class in which the inverted-U theory was discussed.
“I apply that class to my daily life,” he said. “You have to map the stimulus and activity level. If you are not very stimulated you will not have a good performance. If you are overstimulated, your performance will drop off. The more relaxed I am the better I will be.”
Realizing that plenty of work and preparation remain in anticipation of the Trials, West has thought about possibly making Team USA. He recently watched “The Rookie” and recalled the moment when the lead character phoned his family and informed his wife that he needed a sport coat sent to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, for his first game in the majors.
“If I make it, the most satisfying part will be calling my family and telling them you have to get a plane ticket for Sochi,” he said, holding back emotion. “Walking in the opening ceremonies, standing in the starting blocks and representing Team USA would be mind blowing.”