Who says Puerto Ricans can’t be bobsledders?

Jan23

Posted by Javier San Miguel

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It’s the strangest entry on my resume, at least to the narrow-minded, who assume winter sports are irrelevant to Latinos raised in the tropics. But I like speed. I love danger. And winter athletes profoundly inspire me. So I serve on the board of directors of USA Bobsled & Skeleton with pride. Is that so weird? Is my Latino card revoked? Would it be more culturally relevant to follow boxing, baseball or basketball, like most Puerto Ricans?


Vete al carajo.


Jamaicans have done it. Panamanians are going for it. Heck, even Brazil is competing, albeit frighteningly. And why not?  The sport and its athletes continually defy expectations (much like a certain ethnic demographic whose national growth appears to have caught everyone by surprise). In a “look at me” media culture driven by self-promotion, get-rich-quick insta-celebrity, and trivial misplaced priorities, bobsledders quietly counter convention. They toil while no one’s watching—dutifully, resolutely chipping away at the massive odds stacked against them. It’s a punishing, lonely, financially draining athletic pursuit. No one gets rich or famous being a bobsledder. Even if they’re Olympic gold medalists. Below-freezing weather conditions are unforgiving. Athletes wear next to nothing on their skin. They shoot down a mile-long course, at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour, bent forward, butts on bare carbon fiber, for 15 sharp curves slamming 4Gs+ of alternating pressure on their hyper extended spines, necks and shoulders. Several times a day. Six days a week. Seven months out of the year. All in a sport that most people don’t care about, save for a few days, every four years, at the Winter Olympics (though they compete in yearly national and international circuits). No guts, no glory.


Why on Earth?


It’s about the love of the sport and all its unforgiving challenges. The sheer, crazy impossibility of it. Beating the odds. Week in and week out. Going faster, higher, stronger than the rest of the world. It’s about proving something to yourself. Stoking your tenacity. But it’s also about being disciplined in the relentless pursuit of excellence. Do I have it in me to do this? To go the distance and make it to the top of the podium? To endure. Sí, señor. Blink and you’ll miss me. Bobsledders don’t think this; they believe it. To hell with the naysayers. I’m here to fly. As a native-born Puerto Rican, I can’t think of anything more inspiring.


It’s not easy to succeed in the U.S. when English is not your first language. (Certainly not when you write for a living.) It’s also not easy being mistaken for a second-class citizen (Puerto Ricans aren’t real Americans, are they?). You might as well be invisible. But perhaps it’s hardest of all to be put in a box, classified and categorized under arbitrary definitions you had no hand in writing, and from which you’re not expected to veer, simply because of where you come from. Anyone who tries to “pin down” audiences is guilty of this. Government. Political parties. Corporations. School systems and universities. Communications media. Journalists. And, of course, advertising agencies.  There’s nothing more dehumanizing than audience segmentation. If we think of each other as strictly defined “types” we leave no room for exceptions.  And we deny the very diversity we claim to value.


So it’s with extraordinary relish that I celebrate my own tropical passion for a Nordic sport, contradictions be damned. No one in the sliding community saw me as a contradiction from the first moment I set foot on a track. They just saw a new fan appear and sincerely appreciated the support. (“Plus, it’s nice when something other than a moose hangs out trackside.”) God bless bobsledders, for they don’t discriminate arbitrarily. They only have one requirement: your willingness to show up and represent. The remainder is up to you. If only the rest of us mere mortals were capable of putting our own capabilities into such sharp focus.


So forgive me for saying this, but I consider myself a Puerto Rican bobsledder. I’ve experienced a run down the Olympic track in Park City, Utah. (See it on GoPro Cam.) It’s exhilarating, to be sure. But it’s also incredibly violent. Imagine a 300-lb gorilla hopping on your back ready to snap your spine in half. G-forces thrust your torso down to the sled’s floor face first, heaving such extraordinary pressure on your chest you stop breathing. Your head and shoulders bang against the sides of the sled with such unrelenting speed as it whips around the curves, you forget yourself. For about a minute in duration—which feels like a lifetime when you experience it—you’re completely in the moment. No petty concerns. No politics. No racism. No analytics. You simply hang on for dear life. The sport stuns you into perspective. It humbles you back to the most primal of priorities. Just live.


Now isn’t that what life’s really about?  ¡Al carajo con las diferencias!


Javier San Miguel is Associate Creative Director at Sensis.

At the 2012 Park City World Cup with U.S. Olympic gold and bronze medalists Curt Tomasevicz and Steve Holcomb.

Holding some Olympic bobsled bling with U.S. gold and bronze medalist Curt Tomasevicz.

Girl power! With U.S. Olympic silver and bronze medalist Elana Meyers.

Want to be humbled yourself? Bobsled passenger rides are available in Park City and Lake Placid.
Interested in team sponsorship? Give us a shout.
Tax-deductible donations are also welcome in any amount!

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