From Shelby to Olympic gold
February 12th, 2014
Omaha, NE — Shelby, Nebraska is a town of 700 near Columbus. Itâ€™s an unlikely hometown for an Olympic bodsledder like Curt Tomasevicz.
â€œThereâ€™s not a hill in sight,â€ says Amy Tomasevicz, Curtâ€™s mother. â€œ 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.â€
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?
â€œMostly 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?â€ Curt Tomasevicz recalls. â€œYou push a sled for five or six seconds, hop in, go for a ride. Itâ€™s a pretty easy ticket to the Olympics. Later, I found out itâ€™s a lot more complicated than that, but you know, the initial idea came a long, long time ago.â€
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 bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™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 heâ€™s called one of the worldâ€™s most powerful push athletes, one of the non-drivers whose job launching the sled lasts about five seconds each race.
â€œIn some ways you can compare it to the sport of weight-lifting in that sense where itâ€™s just one huge burst of energy and thatâ€™s all you get,â€ Curt Tomasevicz says. â€œYou need to be perfect.â€
Thereâ€™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. Heâ€™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.
â€œFor the most part itâ€™s a lot of suitcase living,â€ Tomasevicz says. â€œWe 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 donâ€™t get first-class flights between every race. Itâ€™s sometimes a 10, 12 hour drive as soon as weâ€™re done competing. So itâ€™s not as glamorous in that way. But itâ€™s a lot of fun, honestly, and I have some great teammates. Theyâ€™ve become some of my best friends too, so that makes things a lot easier.â€
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.
â€œIt is a concern, but thereâ€™s not something that we can do about it. Itâ€™s out of our control,â€ he says. â€œWe donâ€™t want it to become a distraction so we just have to focus on that race and thatâ€™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 donâ€™t want to see an incident.â€
These concerns, in combination with cost and the difficulty of getting there, mean mom and dad wonâ€™t see their son compete in Sochi. Amy Tomasevicz had traveled to Curtâ€™s two previous Olympics.
â€œI donâ€™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,â€ Amy Tomasevicz says. â€œI just pray everything goes okay.â€
Instead, sheâ€™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.
â€œThe town definitely gets behind him and supports him and itâ€™s a nice thing for everybody,â€ says Tony Hernbloom, one of the bus trip participants and manager of the A & B Grillâ€™n Bar in Shelby.
The A & B will be one of the places in Shelby packed when the four-man bobsled competition begins onÂ Feb. 22. â€œThis will probably be the bobsled capitol of Nebraska, for sure,â€ Hernbloom says, laughing.
Because who ever said you need mountains to grow a bobsledder.
For more of NET’s coverage of Nebraska’s Olympian:Â http://www.netnebraska.org/
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