By George Gabara
The ice is on the track at the Whistler Sliding Center and Martin White is charged about it. He has his sights set on competing in Bobsled at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi Russia.
It's his dream to compete at this highest level of bobsled in the world. And like most amateur athletes White has his work cut out for him. The only difference is that his uphill climb to the goal is steeper than most young athletes'. White is 50. He has a business to run - WhistlerMountainHouse.com B&B. He's got a mortgage and a family that depend on him.
But he's also seen up close the power of the Games and the magic they can weave. In the couple of years preceding the 2010 Games White, through his volunteer work as a race official, was permitted to participate in the piloting school that was happening to develop local athletes. At the time the idea of piloting tourist runs was afloat and he decided to make that his focus. White had guided foreign skiers on Whistler Mountain for years and he saw this as a natural extension of that work.
It wasn't until he bumped into New Zealand sliding coach Angus Rose that he learned that the NZ bobsled program was in a bit of disarray and that there were no athletes stepping up to fill positions for bobsled pilot. Rose told White that if he could run tourists down Whistler's fast and technically challenging track, he could run any track in the world.
White says the "light bulb" went on that day - as an ex-pat New Zealander he might just have stumbled onto the opportunity of a lifetime. Fast forward a year and a half - White has jumped through enough hoops to now be considered the captain of the NZ two-man bobsled team and the cash strapped New Zealand sliding program seems eager for his commitment and energy. He equates his bid for the next Winter Olympics to the infamous Jamaican bobsled team, which made its debut at the 1988 Calgary Games. And like them he is paying for the majority of it out of his own pocket.
This season he will be racing on the America's Cup circuit with a newly found Kiwi brakeman.
For now White trains with bobsledding cohort Francis Chiasson. Both are fully infected by the bobsled bug and their passion for the sport grows stronger every time they get a chance to fly down the track in their fiberglass bullet.
Chiasson describes his first 125km/hour run down the track behind White as complete sensory overload. "I had my head up for the first couple of turns and then I just had to bury it between my legs to keep from feeling like I was going to fly out of the sled... and all I could think at the time was 'when is this crazy ride going to end?'
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