From Shelby to Olympic gold

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February 12th, 2014

Omaha, NE — Shelby, Nebraska is a town of 700 near Columbus. It’s an unlikely hometown for an Olympic bodsledder like Curt Tomasevicz.

“There’s not a hill in sight,” says Amy Tomasevicz, Curt’s mother. “ When their grandfather gave them a sled for Christmas, we had to wait until the town man piled up all the snow and then they had a little bit of a hill or we had to get in the car and go find a hill.”

Or sometimes sledding for a kid like Curt would happen in a snowy pasture, in a saucer tied to the back of a four-wheeler. So how does that kid from flat Shelby end up spending the last decade racing down mountain bobsled courses all over the world?

The 2014 US Bobsled team.(Photo Courtesy Curt Tomasevicz)

The 2014 US Bobsled Team.(Photo Courtesy NET/Curt Tomasevicz)

“Mostly it was kind of a joke between a high school friend and myself who saw the 1994 Olympics and the 1998 Olympics on TV and thought, how hard could that be?” Curt Tomasevicz recalls. “You push a sled for five or six seconds, hop in, go for a ride. It’s a pretty easy ticket to the Olympics. Later, I found out it’s a lot more complicated than that, but you know, the initial idea came a long, long time ago.”

Tomasevicz never forgot that idea. Not as a football, basketball and track star at Shelby High. Not as a walk-on football player at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, seeing most of his playing time on special teams. Not while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. With all this behind him, he started bobsledding in 2004. By 2006, he was on the U.S. Olympic team. Now he’s called one of the world’s most powerful push athletes, one of the non-drivers whose job launching the sled lasts about five seconds each race.

“In some ways you can compare it to the sport of weight-lifting in that sense where it’s just one huge burst of energy and that’s all you get,” Curt Tomasevicz says. “You need to be perfect.”

There’s been plenty of success. He won gold in Vancouver but also numerous gold, silver and bronze medals in world championship and world cup events. He’s one of just a few bobsled athletes who receive a stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which, along with sponsorships, allows him to be a full time bobsledder. Half the year is intense off-season training. The other half is competing in Europe and North America. He calls it fun, but not as glamorous as you might think.

“For the most part it’s a lot of suitcase living,” Tomasevicz says. “We have a race almost every weekend and we practice throughout the week leading up to that, so as soon as one race is over, we have to load our own sled into a big truck, kind of a U-Haul truck, and we drive actually from location to location. We don’t get first-class flights between every race. It’s sometimes a 10, 12 hour drive as soon as we’re done competing. So it’s not as glamorous in that way. But it’s a lot of fun, honestly, and I have some great teammates. They’ve become some of my best friends too, so that makes things a lot easier.”

Tomasevicz is in Sochi as part of the top U.S. four-man team, a gold medal favorite when they race toward the end of the Olympics. But hanging over the excitement of competition are concerns about safety and terrorist attacks.

“It is a concern, but there’s not something that we can do about it. It’s out of our control,” he says. “We don’t want it to become a distraction so we just have to focus on that race and that’s all we can do, and just have faith that the USOC is putting in place a good security system, as well as the Russian government because we definitely know that they don’t want to see an incident.”

These concerns, in combination with cost and the difficulty of getting there, mean mom and dad won’t see their son compete in Sochi. Amy Tomasevicz had traveled to Curt’s two previous Olympics.

“I don’t normally have a hard time saying goodbye to Curtis, but this Christmas I did because I just have nagging feelings in the back of my mind,” Amy Tomasevicz says. “I just pray everything goes okay.”

Instead, she’ll likely watch in Shelby. The little town has supported, backed and followed Curt in a way that amazes his teammates. People in Shelby raised $26,000 to get him started a decade ago. They put up billboards celebrating his gold medal. Last December, when Amy Tomasevicz got the idea to charter a bus and take folks to Utah to watch her son race in a World Cup event, 100 people made the trip.

“The town definitely gets behind him and supports him and it’s a nice thing for everybody,” says Tony Hernbloom, one of the bus trip participants and manager of the A & B Grill’n Bar in Shelby.

The A & B will be one of the places in Shelby packed when the four-man bobsled competition begins on Feb. 22. “This will probably be the bobsled capitol of Nebraska, for sure,” Hernbloom says, laughing.

Because who ever said you need mountains to grow a bobsledder.

For more of NET’s coverage of Nebraska’s Olympian: http://www.netnebraska.org/article/news/curt-tomasevicz-nebraskas-winter-olympian

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