Unconditional Support

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. . . an outlet for self-expression that will truly allow them a unique

experience. . . .

Kids can generally be divided into two groups when it

comes to self-expression: those who just want to fit in

with the rest of the crowd and those who try to set themselves

apart from everyone else. This is most evident in the

activities that kids choose to participate in, particularly when

it comes to sports. The traditional sports of baseball, football,

and basketball have long been the activities of choice for kids

seeking a competitive outlet in an “all-American,” yet conventional,

way.

More recently, “extreme” sports have come into vogue,

thanks to their individualistic appeal and mass saturation

(and marketing) by the media and corporate America. Ironically,

these sports that were once considered fringe and radical

have now become mainstream. Who would have thought

that BMX racing would make it into the Summer Olympics?

But there are still many sports and activities available to

kids who crave an outlet for self- expression that will truly

allow them a unique experience—sports where the obscurity

of the activity is part of the attraction. Distance running,

short track speed skating, Frisbee golf, biathlon, soapbox

derby racing, and kayaking are good examples. In my case, it

was luge.

Luge is about as far as you can get from a traditional

American sport. While it doesn’t rival the popularity of skiing

in Europe, the most successful athletes there still enjoy a

high degree of notoriety (and financial gain). In the United

Source: Printed with permission from Fred Zimny.

States, this is not quite the case. For example, how many

Americans know that the United States has won four medals

in luge in the last two Olympic Winter Games, or that the

United States has won 306 medals in international competitions

since the 1994 Olympics? In my case, the attraction was

the possibility of Olympic competition and everything it represented.

I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school when

luge first sparked my interest. It had everything I was looking

for as a kid whose first love was auto racing. It had the speed,

competition, possibility for success, and most of all, a uniqueness

that would set me apart from everyone else.

I was lucky because I had the unconditional support of

my father. In the years to come, he would be the reason for

my continued involvement in the sport. It is now almost thirty

years later, and I am still involved in it. My father was the one

who woke up at 4 AM to drive for two hours, three days a

week to the West Point Military Academy, so I could work out

on what was then the cutting edge of fitness equipment. He

was the one who constructed an indoor start ramp down the

hallway of our house and into the kitchen so I could practice

luge starts indoors when the weather was bad. And it was my

dad who answered the 3 AM. phone calls from Europe when

I was excited about buying my first sled.

This support and a modest degree of success as a National

Team member and the alternate on the 1980 U.S. Olympic

Team sowed a passion that would continue to burn in me even

to this day.

As the current U.S. National and Olympic Team Manager,

I still get excited before every race at the possibilities and

struggles that lie ahead. I still love the sound of a sled gliding

by at more than 80 mph as the steel runners cut into the ice

surface. I am still filled with anticipation at the first snowfall

of the year knowing that the upcoming luge season is not far

behind. These along with once in a lifetime experiences like

marching into the Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Winter

Olympic Games with the U.S. Team, an Olympic Games on

U.S. soil just months after September 11, serve to keep my

passion for luge alive.

As coaches, it’s up to us to help inspire our athletes with

a similar passion and to help them identify the sport or activity

that motivates them to success. To some, success might

mean being a starting player for their soccer team for the first

time, to others it could mean winning an Olympic medal for

the United States or winning the Indianapolis 500.

No matter what the activity, kids should be encouraged to

pursue the interest of their choice with the guidance, support,

and constructive criticism of parents and coaches. It may not

be the activity we would have chosen for them but in the end,

they’ll stick with it because it’s their passion.