Alumnus slides into skeleton

Story by Kyle Davis

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This sports story didn’t start the way most do.

It didn’t start with a sport being a part of an athlete’s life from a young age. 

It didn’t start with an athlete reigniting a passion for the sport after being away from the game.

It didn’t start with the discovery of a new sport and a pursuit to conquer it.

It didn’t start that way, but for Baker University alumnus Greg West, his story is heading in that direction.

It started with a misunderstanding.

About six months ago, West thought he was signing up for a mailing list or schedule for the upcoming Winter Olympics, but it turns out it was much more than that. He was asked to submit an athletic achievement résumé, on which he noted playing college football at Baker, and then West received the e-mail that brought something new into his life.

“This is kind of a whirlwind thing,” West said. “It’s very recent, very fresh.”

The e-mail was from a development coach for the sport of skeleton, inviting West to a sliding school in Lake Placid, N.Y. A couple of days later, a plane ticket was booked and West was about to embark on a new journey.

“I had never even seen a skeleton. I had never seen a bobsled track. I had never done anything with the sport whatsoever,” West said. “I had watched it. I follow the Olympics.”

It can be a fast fall from the top, especially on a sled traveling head first, 80 miles per hour and three inches from the ice.

“He always likes to go fast,” Kendall Bradley, Baker wide receivers coach and a friend of West, said. “Whenever we were kids, he liked to drive his car fast, he liked to go-kart fast and whatever it was, speed was kind of his thing.” 

West’s first run was from the midway point of the mile-long track, where his sled reached a speed of 40-45 miles per hour. By the end of the spring, he was starting from between the third and fourth turns, on the 20-turn track, where he hit 64 miles per hour. West will make his first run from the top of the track in four weeks.

“They lay you down on the sled the first time and they don’t even tell you how to steer it,” West said. “They just say ‘Hold on, because right now the sled is smarter than you are.'”

West said moving up the track and increasing speeds was when “it starts getting a little entertaining.” That is, if the slider, or athlete competing in the skeleton, makes it down the track cleanly.

“If you brush up against the wall, I mean, I haven’t been at 80 miles an hour, but I have hit the wall at 60 miles an hour,” West said. “It tears you up, and certainly it’s not like a little bruise, it’ll turn your entire upper arm black.”

Being a skeleton athlete is an exclusive club, with all of these training courses being by invitation only, but not a well-paying one, at least at the beginning stages. West is serving tables at a restaurant while continuing a workout routine, before leaving again for Lake Placid on Oct. 31 for another driving school.

“The sport of football, or any sport you play, teaches you time management and discipline and I think the ability to overcome adversity,” head football coach Mike Grossner said. “I’m sure learning a new sport like that, there’s going to be some adversity, and some fear.”

West just left the U.S. Skeleton National Push Championships in Lake Placid. He hopes to return to Lake Placid for the full four weeks in November to get in as many runs as he can before being back Nov. 30 for the national advanced driving school.

Then, it’s back to Lake Placid from January to March, where he will compete in club races every week and then the eastern regionals.

“There’s not a lack of desire or hard work there,” Grossner said. “He’s going to work hard at whatever he tries to do.”

For many of these sports, the ultimate stage is the Olympics, but West said right now the Olympics are nowhere on his radar.

“If I were to say right now that I was going to make an Olympic team, I’d be completely full of crap,” West said.

For now, West is just taking it one step at a time and said for him to look too far ahead can be detrimental because it is a slow process.

“Right now, my personal goals, when I go up, is to keep getting invited back,” West said. “As long as they are inviting me back, and I’m not asking to come back, I’ll continue to do it.”