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Baranek: Katie Eberling pushing closer to Olympic bobsledding dream

Katie Eberling (right) her bobsled partner ElanMeyers celebrate after being announced as silver medalists 2013 World Championships St. Moritz Switzerland.

Katie Eberling (right) and her bobsled partner, Elana Meyers, celebrate after being announced as the silver medalists at the 2013 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. | Photo by John Nielsen

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:18AM



The man in the rooster tail USA hat stood out in the crowd.

But it was a whistle that brought the moment home for Palos Hills native and Stagg graduate Katie Eberling as she stood in the winner’s area after receiving a silver medal Jan. 26 at the 2013 Bobsledding World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“My mom (Pat Kane Eberling) has a really distinctive whistle,” Eberling said. “When I heard it I looked up and saw her cheering with my dad.

“They’ve supported me through every athletic stage in my life. To be able to see their faces in the crowd, have them in the stands halfway around the world, meant everything to me, It was awesome.”

Eberling today is in the mountains of Krasnya Polyana, Russia, training at the very site where, one year from Thursday, she’s hoping to compete as a member of the USA Olympic women’s bobsled team at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The official countdown began at a ceremony Thursday in Sochi, where the 22nd Winter Games will be held Feb. 7 through 23, 2014.

“It’s been amazing training on the Olympic track,” Eberling said Thursday. “They are working around the clock building up this area.”

Awesome. Amazing. Eberling has used a lot of words like that in our conversations since she and her bobsled partner Elana Meyers rallied from a bronze medal position in the last of four runs to notch the silver medal at St. Moritz.

As adventures go, Eberling’s, to be sure, is one that can only be described as excellent.

In December 2010, after four years as a volleyball player and student at Western Michigan, she was focusing on a teaching career. Then came an email from Meyers, who was looking for a brakeman and found Eberling’s name on a National Shape and Conditioning Association All-American list, changed everything.

Eberling put teaching on hold to take a blind journey in which she would travel 100 mph in an iron and carbon vehicle through winding, twisting, banked snow and ice-packed tunnels at venues across the globe.

How quickly she’s gotten good at it is nothing short of, well, amazing.

In her debut as a brakeman for Meyers at a World Cup event in December 2011 in Ingls, Austria, they captured a bronze medal. Since then they’ve steadily climbed the ladder as a competitive bobsled team.

“It’s definitely happened so fast,” Eberling said. “To be able to pick it up as quickly as I have and to be in the position I’m in ... I’m still just taking it all in.”

Need I explain the technical aspects of bobsledding? You’ve seen it on Wide World of Sports. Every four years you see it as part of the Winter Olympics coverage.

It’s crazy. The sleds bounce all over the place as they careen down the courses at breakneck speeds. Sometimes they flip. That happened once to Eberling and Meyers, but they were all right.

“Luckily, we’re small enough to tuck into the sled so that the sled takes most of the beating,” Eberling explained. “We all wear burn vests under our suits, in the event that your arm is rubbing against the ice.”

As the brakeman, it’s Eberling’s duty to provide the initial push before jumping into the back seat of the sled. She then has to control the speed of the sled as it bounces all around the course.

It takes power and it takes speed to do what Eberling does in a machine she describes as a trash can being shaken.

“The biggest thing for me, having been a volleyball athlete, was that I was on the lighter side,” Eberling said. “I had to work hard to gain more muscle mass, become stronger and carry enough weight to be an effective brakeman. I gained a lot of good weight during the summer.”

Now, 20 pounds heavier but in as excellent a shape as one could be, Eberling is excelling among a recruiting class that includes two-time USA track and field Olympian Lolo Jones.

“Things look pretty good for Katie,” Amanda Bird, communications director for United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. “The last two seasons out of the blocks she has proved she’s one of the best brakemen in the world. She and Elana have consistently been breaking records, which is pretty impressive.

“And it’s not just her athletic abilities. Katie is very stoic as a person. She has the ability to put her head down and work hard. She really doesn’t let anything bother her or interrupt her during competition.”

A lot still has to happen before we’re watching Katie compete on TV next February. There is one more competition this season. She’ll come home in April, but then go back into training from May through October. The USA Olympic team will be selected in January.

Eberling said she still plans to be a teacher. For now, she is enjoying her adventure.

“I’ve been to Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Russia ... everywhere we go it’s just gorgeous mountains and absolutely breathtaking views,” she said. “I’m thankful I took the risk. There have been great rewards, so many life experiences.

“When things get stressful or not going the way we had hoped, we just kind of take in the moment and realize that we’re not boxed up in a cubby hole. Our office is pretty nice. Life is pretty good.”



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