espnW: Elana Meyers
Olympic bobsledder (and recent newlywed) Elana (Meyers) Taylor let the camera in on Say Yes to the Dress. But what happened behind the scenes isn’t exactly what you’re likely to see on the show. Here are seven things that surprised Taylor -- an avid SYTTD fan -- about the experience.
She’d already said yes to another dress -- and that was OK. Filming was last Christmas during my break from the season at Lori’s Bridal Shop in Atlanta. They actually approached me on Facebook, and then Twitter (I ignored the message at first because I thought it was a joke). I didn’t think I could be on the show since I’d already gotten my dress, but they said, “Well, what about your reception dress?” I’d already planned to get a different dress for the reception, so it worked out.
It was a long filming day. I’d done NBC photo shoots leading up to the Olympics and I thought I was prepared for a longer shoot. But I didn’t realize what was involved in reality TV dress shopping. Not only are you trying on all these dresses, but you’re mic’d the entire time and there’s all this staging so it’s not like you can just walk out there. And then there are all the one-on-one interviews.
The actual day was not dramatic -- there was no fighting. (But that doesn’t mean that’s how it will play out on TV.) In one of the interviews I told them that I don’t pick out a lot of my clothes for events and award shows -- my mom does -- because she has a lot of style. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’m pretty sure they turned it into my mom picked out my clothes because I don’t know how to dress myself. I know one of the taglines my sister found on the Internet was “Olympian argues with mother over length of dress.” I don’t think we argued, but it is reality TV, and I know their job is to dramatize things.
You have to repeat your “lines” over and over. They don’t tell you what to say, but they’ll ask you to say something another way, or to say it again and again. I admire the salespeople who do it day in and day out. Let alone that their job is to sell dresses at the end of it all.
They gave us food, but I was afraid to eat. We were there from 9 a.m. till after 3 p.m. and they had all these snacks, but no way was I eating anything. First of all I’m trying on dresses and I don’t want anything to show badly. And then I don’t want Cheetos on my fingers when I’m trying on dresses!
The dresses aren’t free. A lot of people were asking me if I got a dress out of it. Well, I did “say yes.” (Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but my wedding was April 24 so I’m already in all the pictures wearing it!) But nope, even as an Olympian, all you get is a little discount.
It really is reality TV. A lot of the shoots I’ve done in the past, you get there pretty raw and they make you up and make you pretty. For this, you had to do your own hair and makeup. How I looked trying on dresses is exactly how I would have looked trying on dresses without the TV cameras.
Taylor's "Say Yes to the Dress" episode airs Friday at 9:30 ET on TLC.
Since the Sochi Olympics I’ve been giving my all to a new sport -- rugby -- with two aims: helping Team USA in any way possible to get to Rio in 2016, and improving at bobsled by mixing up my training. (Much more on that here.)
I’m at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., training full time, and that old car analogy has hit home for me more than ever: If you give a car poor gasoline, you’re going to end up with problems. But if you do high-grade, the engine is going to be more sound and get better fuel economy.
So I’ve been working hard to put in good-quality foods to get good-quality workouts. When I’m eating at my best, my whole body feels better. Here are the top five foods I swear by right now:
1. Bananas After a cardio-heavy rugby practice, I have a banana for sure. It’s quick carbohydrates to replenish everything I’ve lost running my guts out.
2. Almond Butter In bobsled I’m watching my weight all the time, and I eat a pretty fat- and protein-based diet. Almond butter is something quick I can grab that gives me protein for my muscles and fat to replenish what I worked off from the workout.
3. Chocolate Milk It’s got an ideal protein-to-carbohydrate ratio for recovery, and it can be a substitute for protein shakes, which is great for me since I have a hard time with artificial protein.
4. Steak or Grilled Chicken After bobsled, especially, I make sure to have a really good protein source to help my muscles rebuild.
5. Water Does water count? I drink lots and lots of it. As much as I can! I’ll sit down in the caf and make myself drink a cup or two before I eat, and more with my meal. I’ve heard there’s a significant power drop-off when you’re dehydrated.
And the foods I skip…
What I don’t eat is almost as important as what I do. I’m hardly perfect (especially right now because I have the stress of wedding planning on top of everything), but here’s what I’ve been avoiding:
1. Fast food. Out of season I don’t think twice about grabbing something real quick, but in season I make sure my foods take a while to cook and they’re not overprocessed. As I see it, whatever chemicals allow the food to be cooked that quickly are something I’m going to avoid putting in my peak-performance body!
2. Gluten. This is definitely one I’ve been slipping on with the recent wedding planning, but I usually try to stay away from gluten during my season. Even though it hasn’t been scientifically proven to affect people who aren’t gluten intolerant (and I don’t think I am), some people believe it can set off an inflammation response. And when I’m putting so much of myself into performing at my best, I’d rather steer clear, just in case.
3. Milk chocolate. It’s so tempting when we travel in Europe and they have Milka brand chocolate everywhere you stop, but I only eat at least 80 percent dark chocolate during the season since it has beneficial antioxidants.
4. Dried fruit. OK, I’ll admit that I don’t eat raisins because I can’t stand them. But I stay away from dried fruit in general, even though it tastes good, because of all the sugar. If I’m going to have that much sugar, I’d rather eat cake. (See pic above!)
If you come home from the Olympics as a medalist, you're on a high: There are events, speaking engagements, trips to the Oscars. But not for me this time -- I've been MIA.
The reason? I'm at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., trying my hand at a new sport.
Rugby is going to be an Olympic sport for the first time in Rio in 2016. The U.S. rugby coach, Ric Suggitt, talked to me about giving it a try last summer when I was out here training for bobsled. But, at that point, I couldn't even think about another sport, let alone go out there and play. It was bobsled season, and an Olympic year at that, so I didn't want to risk an injury.
But my fiancÚ, Nic, and I went to watch some training and threw the ball around a bit. I used to play softball in college, and I had to admit I missed ball sports. With Sochi to focus on, however, I put it in the back of my mind.
After the Olympics, though, it was still on my mind. So I emailed Suggitt and said, “When can we get this started?” He said March 1! The team was looking for crossover athletes and Suggitt was willing to teach me what I needed to know. They're focused on the upcoming World Series in China, and I'm focused on helping Team USA in any way I can.
I live my life for the experiences, and I want to have a story to tell. This felt like a great opportunity. And when a national team coach invites you to come out and train, you say yes!
Training for rugby is completely different than bobsled. For one, there's a lot more cardio. I think the farthest I had run in the past seven years was 80 meters. The bobsled is all about short sprints -- 20 or 30 meters -- then you hop in the sled. I probably ran more in the first day of rugby training than I did in my entire bobsled career to date. Don’t get me wrong; we train hard in bobsled, but we train to do things once with maximum power.
Rugby players train to do things for seven minutes, which is what you need in a match. I say I die a cardio death every day, but then we get in the weight room and I’m still crazy strong!
Ultimately, I think playing rugby will be really good for my bobsledding. When you’ve been training the same way for seven years, it's good to have your body do something different. Canadian bobsledder Heather Moyse is a good example. She did bobsled and rugby this past summer and came back pushing bobsled better than ever, winning her second gold in Sochi. My strength coach, Stu McMillan, is also supportive, which is important.
The rugby team here is awesome. It has to be frustrating for them to have somebody come out in the middle of the season not knowing anything about rugby, but a couple of days before I got here, Kelly Griffin, the team captain, sent me a complete rundown of everything I needed to know. They're teaching me every day and patiently repeating things. It’s all with a purpose: The team is trying to win this World Series, qualify for the Olympics and win a gold medal. They know it’s going to take every one of them.
It's a "young" team in that it would be everyone's first trip to the Olympics, so I can lend my experience in terms of what it takes to win a medal at the highest level. I try to pitch in on the mental side when I can. For example, we watch video a lot and break down different teams and what they look like. I told them that, a lot of times, people are quick to focus on their weaknesses, but we have a lot of strengths. Why not focus there to make our strengths even better?
Coming off of the Olympics and jumping into the middle of a season in full swing has definitely been an adjustment. In rugby, you have a weight session, sprint session, on-field session and video session. It's a lot of daily activity -- more than bobsled! My body is ready for a break, but my mind keeps saying, "Nope, we’re going to keep going!" So I'm trying to make sure I'm not running myself into the ground.
For now, I just have a one-month contract and I’m taking it day by day. After that, we'll see how it is going and if I'm able to help Team USA. They will soon announce the roster for China, and the first game is against Canada. I have no idea if I'll make the team, but if I do, it would be cool to get in that game since I lost the gold medal to Canada in Sochi.
For now, I'm still trying to figure out how to catch the ball when I'm out of breath!
The Sochi Olympics was an incredible experience, and I’m thrilled to the moon (and back!) with the effort we put out. The whole USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation did amazingly -- our best since 2002, and then we had a home-field advantage. So to come to Russia and have the kinds of performances we did on Russian soil was just incredible.
I’d driven with Lauryn Williams, my brakeman, for only one race in Lake Placid before we came to Sochi. We’d probably done only a total of 10 runs together before racing in the Olympics. Because of that we did everything we could to get on the same wavelength and try to develop that winning chemistry. We were roommates, we ate together, we were even dressing alike! Lauryn is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Coming from track, an individual sport, you wouldn’t necessarily expect her to know how to be such a great teammate. But it seems like she’s been doing team sports her whole life and her attitude is infectious.
It was certainly eventful for us, starting before the competition even began.
On a training run two days before the race we had an incident with the outrun, the part of the track after you cross the finish line.
I went into a skid at the end of a practice run and Lauryn was trying to pull the brakes. Our runners got stuck and I couldn’t drive away from the wall. A bobsled is kind of like a car and, the whole steering component -- the whole front axle -- came out of the sled. We skidded and collided headfirst with the short wall. It was probably the hardest hit I’ve ever taken in a bobsled.
I had a little bit of whiplash, but thanks to a great sports medicine staff I didn’t feel anything going into the race. Our sled was totaled, though.
Fortunately, and with many thanks to BMW, we have great mechanics -- David Cripps, Richard Laubenstein and Cheech Garde. They’re Formula One guys who did an amazing job rebuilding the sled overnight. It was unbelievable. During the race, it ran just like it had before the accident.
I love the Sochi track, but there’s no question it’s a very technical one. It’s pretty difficult to drive, and it showed during all of the runs -- not just mine. I made a couple of mistakes, and thankfully we had the benefit of a fast push that bought me a little wiggle room. In the end, we earned the silver medal. Kaillie Humphries of Canada drove that track really well and that’s why she has the gold medal.
So there were a lot of things that happened before and during the race, but I am super excited for Lauryn and me. We put our heart and soul into that race and that’s what made it fun. Both of us made a little history with our silver medal (she became the first American woman to medal in both a Summer and Winter Games, and I became the first U.S. female bobsledder to win two Olympic medals). To share that moment with her was extra special.
One of my favorite parts of the Games was getting to meet and hang out with the other athletes. I already knew speedskater Heather Richardson from some BMW events (she’s also a BMW athlete), but I also met her teammates Brittany Bowe and Sugar Todd. They were really supportive and came to our races. And I’d met Shani Davis in Vancouver, but it was fun to catch up again. I challenged him to a race on the bikes they gave us to ride around the village. (He turned me down.) I hadn’t been on a bike in a long time, and it was so fun.
We also got our hair and nails done in the village and had some serious air hockey tournaments. I beat all the brakemen, and the running joke was that they let me win because they couldn’t have their driver’s confidence take a hit. But I know I won fair and square!
Now I’m finally home in Douglasville, Ga., after an epic journey back from Sochi. It took five flights and four different airlines to get here. We went from Sochi to Moscow, Moscow to Zurich, Zurich to Washington… and then I missed my next flight out of Dulles.
We had to switch D.C. airports and fly out of Reagan (which, if you know D.C., is not all that close to the Dulles airport). I then flew to Charlotte, and finally got home to Atlanta. I left at 1 a.m. Sochi time and got in at 1 a.m. in Atlanta on the next day. My body is just really confused about now. Though on the upside, I did log a lot of frequent-flier miles!
Now, I’m quickly back to reality. I went to an event on Monday night with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in which I paid a surprise visit to some kids in the hospital to show them my sled. Then next week I’ll start back with some online classes in securities analysis with DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management. I’m working toward an MBA degree. It’s also time to get serious about wedding planning -- in two months I’ll be Mrs. Elana Meyers-Taylor.
Life is crazy, so I’m just taking it all in, trying to enjoy it as it comes.
Elana Meyers, a bronze medalist in 2010, earned silver in women’s Olympic bobsled on Wednesday. Her brakeman Lauryn Williams, a 2012 Olympic sprinter and gold medalist in the 4x100 relay, became the fifth Olympian to medal in both the Summer and Winter Games. Meyers sent us photos from her Olympic experience so far.
My dad's first Sochi selfie! I am so lucky that he is able to be here with me.
Lauryn and me at an event for Right to Play in Sochi. Both of us are part of the #RTPNation
The tickets for my races!
My fiancÚ, Nic (also an elite bobsledder), and Lauryn's boyfriend, Will, holding hands with a Sochi mascot.
Another Sochi selfie -- this time at the women's luge race. We got to see Erin Hamlin, who won the first medal ever for an American in singles luge. So inspiring for our own races!
Elana Meyers shared her personal photos from all of Friday’s festivities in Sochi.
In the middle of the #wolfpack and the men's skeleton team.
Curve 15 in the bobsled track.
Me and Canadian bobsledder Kaillie Humphries before the Opening Ceremony.
Me and a Russian dancer at the Opening Ceremony.
Me and my bobsled teammates Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones.
Me and the legendary ski jumper Lindsey Van! I can't wait to see her compete.
I was very nervous going into Friday’s World Cup race in Park City, Utah, because Wednesday’s training had not gone well at all.
It was strange: I was feeling OK driving that day in training, but my times were really slow. I didn’t know what was going on and was so frustrated that my times weren’t reflecting how I was feeling. I tried to fix things and almost crashed twice, which is rare in Park City (it’s an easier track) and horrible for me considering I’d been driving so well this season.
I had a mini panic attack, which wasn’t helped when our second training run was canceled because of a problem with the ice on the track. So I went home kind of freaking out that I’d had such a bad day and only had one more day before the race.
Part of being a driver, though, is that we have mental ups and downs. Some days everything clicks and feels great, and other days we feel awful. The important thing is working through those bad days.
On Friday, we came down our first run of the race and I pushed fast: We were two-hundredths of a second off the track record, so I knew we were in a good spot. Then my Canadian rival Kaillie Humphries came down and beat us by a hundredth, and our U.S. teammates Jamie Greubel and Katie Eberling came down two sleds behind us and we knew it would be close.
Before the second run I was working really hard to calm myself down. I told Aja Evans, my brakeman (and roommate), that we’d just have to focus on being the best we could be and not focus on the others, and that’s what we did. I slide best when I’m happy, and we were both smiling and having a blast out there. When we came down the track I knew I’d put down a solid run and it was just a question of if it would be enough.
It was! This was my first World Cup win as a driver, and it was pretty awesome. There wasn’t much time to celebrate, though. By the time we took care of our sleds and did the awards ceremonies, we didn’t get into bed until 1 a.m. The next race was at 10 a.m. the next morning, so it meant being up at 6:30. Ouch.
That night, I was playing out this weird balance of being excited and really wanting to cherish the moment, while also knowing I needed to prepare for my next race. Let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep.
On Saturday it was snowing pretty hard, but we were 10th in the lineup, so nine sleds went before us, helping to plow the snow off the track. It was another amazing race. We won again, and to make it even better, the other two U.S. sleds tied for second, giving us a 1-2-2 podium sweep.
In fact, we performed so well it got the other countries questioning whether our sleds were legal. After I won the race, my sled was under inspection for an inordinate amount of time. Our team mechanics did such a great job with our sleds, though, and when all was said and done, they passed every test.
Any time you have that kind of performance other countries are going to question you, but you can’t ignore the fact that we have three great push crews. When you push that fast at the top of the hill, it’s tough to be beaten. I think that’s what stands out most with the U.S. team: We have the most athletic women’s bobsledders in the world right now, and that’s what’s going to help us get results!
It’s an understatement to say I’m feeling pretty psyched for the Sochi Olympics right now. The back-to-back races were a good prep for what we’ll have to do at the Games, and I showed that when the heat is on I could do what I need to do. It was a huge confidence booster, and I ended up with two gold medals!
Being away from friends and family is one of the hardest parts of being an elite athlete. Sure we struggle financially and have to push ourselves to do crazy things physically sometimes. And we can’t always eat everything we want to. But it’s especially sad when it’s the holidays, and you see all the ads about family this and Black Friday that, and you’re not with your family.
This Thanksgiving is one of those times for me. I’m in Calgary, Canada, preparing for a World Cup race on Saturday, so the next few days are pretty much ordinary workdays. I’ve got a weightlifting session Thursday morning and then training and getting our sleds ready for the race. We haven’t decided what we’re doing for dinner yet as a team -- maybe Chinese food? We’re in a hotel here so there aren’t even kitchens if we wanted to make a turkey. But Chinese is always a good fallback when the turkey burns, anyways!
It’s especially tough this year because my fiancÚ, Nic, didn’t make the national team so I’m not even with him. But I just try to focus on what I’m doing here -- bobsledding, and chasing my Olympic dream. If I’m going to spend this much time away from my family and friends, it better be for something that matters. I owe it to my loved ones to put everything I have into what I’m doing to make sure I’m focused and ready to go come race time. In some small way that makes it feel more worth what I’ve missed.
Thankfully I did get to see my family and do an early Thanksgiving at the beginning of November before I left for two weeks of training and racing in Sochi, Russia. The Sochi trip was really fun. We took our spare brakemen, to give the top brakemen a rest since the travel was pretty brutal and the facilities aren’t all that great yet. But the spare brakemen did a great job, and the trip went a long way toward making us feel more confident with the logistics there. We’ll be ready when it’s the real deal in Sochi at the Olympics.
Personally, I had some ups and downs and I’m still trying to feel things out with the new sleds, but I came away feeling that I can drive well with them. New sleds can be hard to get used to. The steering, the way it rides and even the noise it makes are different. For pilots, having a different auditory input changes our senses inside the sleds.
Our old sleds were built like tanks, and when you hit a wall it sounded like a tap. When you hit a wall in our new carbon-fiber BMW sleds, it sounds like a bomb going off and you hear all that in your ears! We’re confident that the new sleds are faster, though, which is the important thing. We’re just working through some growing pains.
During our two weeks in Sochi we got to go down into the city a bit, too. It’s very modern and much different than I thought it was going to be. I sent my mom a picture of a Gucci and Louis Vuitton store. Who knew? And there’s a boardwalk, kind of like Atlantic City or something. We got to dip our toes in the Black Sea, which was pretty cool! The train from where we compete to the city center is fast, and will be even faster by the time they’re done with all the construction.
After Saturday’s race it’s back to Park City for two more World Cup races, then to Lake Placid for a final race before we break for Christmas. We have a team fundraiser in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 17, and while I’m there I’m going to pay a visit to my alma mater, George Washington University. They’re inducting me into the athletic hall of fame, which is pretty cool! And while I can’t be there for the ceremony, they’re letting me record something in advance. I’ve got to rack my brain for what to say that’s meaningful and poignant and won’t make me sound like some foolish jock!
Meanwhile, Nic is in the process of looking at jobs and trying to figure out what’s next for him -- and us. It’s an interesting process for the two of us: me competing in World Cups and Olympics and him trying to figure out where we’ll live next spring after we get married. Being away from each other and trying to figure out everything has made me thank God for technology like Skype and FaceTime. I truly think this is going to be an amazing year, but between the media and Olympics and wedding planning and trying to figure out where we’re going to live come March, it never really stops. Still, I’m so excited to see what the future holds!
The Olympic season is here! It's been a busy fall, but a fun one. We've been on the ice since Oct. 2, and things are going great. We have six new BMW sleds, so each driver/brakeman team is in one of the new sleds, and we'll soon find out who will be named to the World Cup team. (The first World Cup is Nov. 30 in Calgary.)
I've been pre-selected to the team because of my silver medal finish at the 2013 world championships, but I still raced in the first round of team trials in Lake Placid, N.Y., for extra practice last week. In an Olympic year when the competition is already so intense, I feel fortunate not to have to worry about this process and to be able to use these races to prepare for the World Cup season.
I'd love to set out to win every race, but winning isn't the most important thing right now. You could have the best run of your life and lose a race because somebody has a better day. Or you could have the worst run and win.
My second run in team trials was really fast. I won -- but I didn't feel good about it. I made some mistakes, and it just wasn't the best run I could have had. If I were only focused on the winning, I wouldn't have the motivation to work to improve, and I definitely want to continue to improve as we head into Sochi.
There has been some time away from the track, too. Last Wednesday I was in New York City for the Women's Sports Foundation's annual Salute to Women in Sports. It's the foundation's major fundraiser for the year, and it raised more than a million dollars! I‘m so grateful to have received grants from the WSF the last two years to help with my training expenses, so it was a great opportunity to go out there and do whatever I could to help the organization.
I was able to meet Diana Nyad, and I loved hearing her tell her story in her own words. Julie Foudy and Mary Carillo dressed up as sharks and did a rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" as a tribute to Diana that was pretty hilarious. Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of the shark performance since it was right after the parade of athletes, and we weren't allowed to have cell phones for that!
We also had the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit out in Park City, Utah, at the end of last month. I was asked everything from what's the song of my life right now ("Best Day of My Life" by American Authors -- because it really is!) to normal bobsled questions like how fast we go ((about 75 to 92 mph). A lot of the questions were centered around which teammate I want to have as my brakeman, and I always have the same answer: I want the fastest one!
Next up we have the second round of team trials Oct. 25, and then it's home to Atlanta for a few days at the beginning of November. On the agenda: wedding cake tasting. For the most part, wedding planning is on hold, but we've taken care of the major things like the date (April 24, 2014) and the venue (my parents' house). I still need to finalize things like the catering and invitations.
Despite how busy it is, I'm having so much fun. The pressure of the Olympics isn't on quite yet, and I'm feeling really comfortable in my new sled. I'm not in peak shape right now, but I'm not supposed to be. I want to be in peak shape come February. For now it's a matter of continuing to train hard physically and keeping up with my nutrition.
In November, we have two weeks in Sochi that will be a challenge. It's an important time for getting to practice on the Olympic track, but the Olympic Village isn't set up yet, so we won't have great training facilities, and it will be hard to get the best food. It's going to be a crucial two weeks, nutrition-wise, and it will be tough to maintain everything I've worked for all summer.
But I'm not overthinking it all. I have a new iPod and been listening to the same five songs on repeat for weeks: Katy Perry's "Roar" (that song fires me up like nobody's business -- it's a really good power song!), "Wake Me Up" by Avincii, "Stompa" by Serena Ryder, "Demon" by Imagine Dragons and, as I mentioned before, "Best Day of My Life." Right now, this playlist is keeping my head clear, and keeping me motivated to take on the season!
Last week was quite the week! It was our national push championships and training camp in Calgary -- and marked the beginning of the process to make the 2014 Olympic bobsled team.
For most of my potential Olympic teammates, the first step to Sochi is to make the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, but I've been preselected to that team based on my results from last season. So for me, the week was about testing where I was in my training, while for others it was about making a statement to earn a spot on that team.
I trained hard this summer, and was hoping to see the results in my performance. I did worse than I expected in my combine (dry-land testing that including running and lifting), and was a little discouraged. I was forced to remind myself that the goal is to be as fast and as strong as possible in February at the Olympics, and I have to keep working in order to get there.
The week ended on a positive note, though, as I won my sixth consecutive push championship, and posted strong combos with every brakeman during the doubles competition. (The drivers like me are routinely paired with different brakemen to see which combination is the fastest.) Even though I'm not where I want to be yet, I am still pushing well and know that I've got much more time to improve.
And that's what was important about last week, with six months to go until the Olympics. It was an opportunity to see where I'm at and also to see where I need to go. It's going to be an intense time, but as long as I continue to work hard and trust the plan laid out by my coaches, I know I'll be where I want to be in February 2014.
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at what the week was like. Sochi, here we come!
Drug testing in Canada after only a few days! They'll find you wherever you are.
Family mealtime in the house we rented: There were six bobsledders in one house!
Bobsled spikes I had created for the upcoming season. They sure do stand out, which is just what I wanted.
Some of the girls warming up for the lifting portion of the combine.
The crammed car ride back from a long day of combine testing. We got everyone in there!
Emily Azevedo, who was first to go, at push testing for brakemen.
Nic and I enjoying some sushi on a rare carb day that doubled as a date night.
Let me tell you, it is pretty cool to be in a training group with the athletes who'll be my biggest competition at the 2014 Sochi Games. I just wrapped up a great month in Scottsdale, Ariz., training alongside the reigning world-champion bobsled duo, Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Chelsea Valois. I’ve actually known Kaillie for years and we’ve always had an ongoing battle to see who can have the faster start. (I think I have a leg up right now!) I was really close friends with her past brakeman, Shelley-Ann Brown, who was a 2010 silver medalist. The U.S. team stays close with the Canadians, so together we can prevail against Germany!
My coach, Stu McMillan, is based in Scottsdale, and it was great to work with him in person for the month. He coaches my fiancÚ, Nic, so it’s nice that we get to travel together. Nic follows me everywhere, or we go together, I guess. We were also out there with my U.S. bobsled teammates, Bree Schaaf and Jazmine Fenlator, and U.S. skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender.
But while we had some great training in Arizona, we were essentially living out of a hotel there, which can make it hard to settle in, eat the right foods, that sort of thing. So now we're on to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., for another month of offseason conditioning. There, it's all about the convenience -- housing for us, a great medical staff, great food and warm weather. It’s basically the perfect setting for what we need to be doing right now: getting faster and stronger.
We train six days a week, and each day includes some type of running or strength workout. It’s all about getting functionally stronger in the positions that matter for racing, which means balancing the strength between my quads and hamstrings. Right now, my quads are winning, so building up my hamstrings to the same level is a big focus right now. I’m also trying to lean out my body, something we can’t really do during the season because, with all the traveling, we just need to focus on getting enough calories in. We have a nutritionist in Colorado Springs who I work with now and again, along with my coach. The goal is making sure I’m getting the right balance of nutrients -- enough protein and vegetables and not too many sugary or starchy carbs. I’m not big on protein shakes -- I think they’re pretty gross, actually -- so I have to make sure I eat enough meat, fish and other good protein sources. And this year, I’m going pretty hard-core about no sugar whatsoever. Usually I allow myself a little -- I love red velvet cake or any form of chocolate -- but with the Olympics coming up, it’s all about doing every last thing in my control to get in the best shape I can.
We just had an NBC photo shoot, which got me pretty excited for the Games. I’ve never been a part of anything like that. Basically, we spent the day being shuttled around 14 different photo shoots and interviews -- essentially all the stuff NBC will use for their Olympic promos next year. Let me tell you, it was exhausting. We rushed from room to room, changing clothes in 30 seconds while running to the next room. I came back to my hotel and just crashed afterward. I’m not jealous of models at all! My favorite part was when they taped a segment where I went through what I do before a race. They had my BMW bobsled shipped in and added fake snow and a backdrop of the Sochi mountains. The photographers and camera people were so nice; even if I was doing a bad job (hey, I’m not a pro!), they didn’t let on.
Now, we're back to the endless training at the U.S.O.T.C. It’s easy to stay motivated when you’re surrounded by people who are all training for the same goal. There are a lot of track and field athletes, rugby and beach volleyball players here as well, and it's pretty cool to hear their stories from last year’s Summer Olympics in London.
There is also this huge training camp for Paralympians, and I’ve become friends with Lex Gillette, who is a blind long and triple jumper. It’s so inspiring to watch him jump and run with a guide runner and what he’s able to do.
I’ve also been impressed with discus thrower Jarred Rome. He was here last time I was at the training center, so we chit-chat a bit. He is a huge guy, but has amazing form at things like power cleans. I’d like to say I improved my cleans from him, but I think I’m beyond help.
After this, we're headed back to Lake Placid for the start of next season -- the Olympic one! It's all coming so fast now, I really can't believe it.
It’s official: The season is over.
We wrapped up in mid-March with a pretty fun finale — a friendly co-ed national championship race where I teamed up with my fiance Nic Taylor as brakeman to race against Katie Eberling (my brakeman at the world championships this year) and Steve Holcomb, the No. 1 driver in the world on the men’s side. And get this: We tied over two runs. Bobsled can be a pretty high-pressure sport, so it was nice to close it down with a fun competition just to see what would happen.
And now it’s on to the offseason, though it’s hardly “off.”
Bobsledding is an expensive sport. As a driver you have to have two or three sets of runners (the blades that go on the sled), and each one costs at least $5,000. And then there’s the cost of traveling and training. During the season, all your travel and training expenses are covered — as long as you’re in the first- or second-ranked sled. But you have to foot the bill to get yourself to that point.
I’m heading out to Arizona in April to work with a new coach there, and will be in Calgary for at least a month this summer leading up to our push championships (which determine the top ranked sleds), and that’s all on my dime.
So needless to say, we have to be creative with our revenue streams. I do everything from substitute teaching to blogging to speaking appearances, and it all pretty much goes back into the sport. It can be frustrating because I’m not able to afford some of the things other 28-year-olds have, but right now I’m trying to represent my country to the best of my ability, so that’s my focus.
I was just at my alma mater, George Washington University, speaking on a panel with a sports psychologist and a sports nutritionist about body image among female athletes. I think every athlete struggles with that at some point in his or her career. Bobsledders are big athletes, and I’m a big athlete. My dad was a football player, and I’ve been the same size since eighth grade, so I get how it can be hard when you don’t fit in with the “normal-size” girls, or your butt and legs are too big for normal-size jeans.
But as athletes, we have to learn to appreciate what our bodies do for us. People win medals in all shapes and sizes! And I can’t help but say that finding a fiance who loves me unconditionally at any size has played a huge role in my body confidence.
I’m also working on my MBA through DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management. The U.S. Olympic Committee started this program last February that provides tuition assistance to athletes so we can work toward degrees while competing in our sport. It’s flexible and I can take just one class at a time, but ultimately, it helps me to make sure I’m getting prepared to get a job and provide for myself financially when I retire from bobsledding.
And did I mention I have a wedding to plan before the season starts up again? My mom is pushing me to get as much as possible done ahead of time since DJs and photography are the last things I need to be thinking about when the Olympic season gets going.
I have my dress already, but I honestly didn’t realize all the planning that goes into a wedding. All those TV shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” make it look so easy! I know nothing about flowers, for example, but thankfully my mom is good at that stuff and my older sister already got married so she’s been through it before.
I do know I want to get married in my parents’ front yard in Georgia, and the colors are going to be different shades of pink. Nic and I are both pretty laid back though — it’s going to be a small wedding and then hopefully a huge party with all our friends.
There's lots of "real world" stuff going on in this offseason, but all of these normal hassles also help remind me why I love bobsledding so much. I'm running around now so that I can focus next season. One Olympic gold medal is all that's standing between me and wedded bliss! So 2014, here I come.
I’ve got some new hardware, and it’s not just the silver medal around my neck from last month’s world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
It happened at the medal ceremony right after they finished playing Canada’s national anthem (Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Chelsea Valois took gold). All of a sudden, the president of our national federation stopped the ceremony and brought my boyfriend, fellow bobsledder Nic Taylor, up to the podium.
It was a total surprise, but when I saw him coming up, I knew what was going to happen. He got down on one knee and said, “Elana, will you marry me?” I don’t think I said anything -- I just nodded my head yes. I was still in my speed suit, sweatpants and a towel, and I was so cold -- but I was so happy!
It was amazing that so many of the people I’ve been around for the past six years of my life were able to share the moment, everyone from former to current teammates who have seen our relationship from the start. That was really special.
We don’t have a date yet, but I’m pretty sure it will be in Georgia near my home. We’ve got to finish out the season first, and then we’ll talk. We’ve got to think about timing with the Olympics, too. How do you plan a wedding and prepare for the Olympics? I’m not sure you can!
To top it all off, worlds was one of the most fun bobsled races I’ve ever been a part of. First, I managed to really lighten the mood for myself and my brakeman, Katie Eberling, by completely tripping over my pants twice in the 20 meters between the start house and starting line, despite trying to look all fierce and competitive. We both cracked up about that.
Then we had a great race. Being in a close race and coming out on top is what every athlete wants. The best moment was after my last run, knowing I had done absolutely everything I could. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw we were going to at least win a medal -- I just didn’t know what color. Knowing how hard I’ve worked and how hard it’s been this whole season, it was awesome.
This year I have a different attitude: I'm going out there and attacking in my sled. When I won the bronze at last year’s worlds in Lake Placid, I held third place for a day and just tried to hold on and not drop to fourth. This year, I went after it and did everything I could to put it all out there. That’s really the difference this season, which has made it fun and difficult. Last year, no one had any expectations for me and I was able to approach every run with a rookie mentality. Now, with more experience under my belt, it’s about being able to keep my calm and compete with an expectation that I’m going to win races or consistently be at the top of races.
Now, we're in Sochi for two weeks of training and a test-run competition for the Olympics. (They do a test run just to make sure the facilities are all up to snuff, checking things like the timing system, transportation up and down the track -- everything and anything that could go wrong so it won’t go wrong at the Games.) I was lucky to be invited to test out the track once before at Sochi last year, but I feel even more fortunate to spend two weeks there now, just one year away from the Olympics. The more runs I can get in, the better I can get to know the track, which will add up to more-skilled driving at the Games.
Getting back to Sochi in 2014 is still my biggest goal. I want to make the Olympic team and win gold, and what’s driving me right now is my love of the sport. I know I’ve made a lot of progress and accomplished a lot, and I want to see how good I can be at this, how far I can go. Like any athlete, I just want that perfect run. I want to be in my sled, get to the bottom and be like, “Wow, that was perfect.” And so I keep trying.
Happy New Year! We’re halfway through the season, closing in on the final three World Cup races and the world championships. I’ve got to say, this season has had its ups and downs for me.
It was exciting to start things off with a bronze medal, racing with Tianna Madison at the World Cup in Lake Placid in November. It gave me high expectations, but unfortunately I followed that race with a not-so-great showing in Park City. I broke the start record there and was in position to win the race with Aja Evans as my brakeman, but then I made a major mistake. I came off a curve too late and hit the luge start -- a big piece of Plexiglas -- costing us a lot of time and landing us back in eighth place.
It was a learning experience, to say the least. Those kinds of miscalculations happen, especially when you’re a newer driver like I am, but I also learned I couldn’t take my results from previous races into the next race.
In December, Katie Eberling and I took second in the World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany, where they give you a huge glass of beer at the finish and an entire keg if you end up on the podium. There was a team race later in the afternoon, so I couldn’t have more than a few sips. No drinking and driving, after all! We ended up giving the keg to the men’s team, and they were more than happy to receive it.
I did get almost two weeks off over Christmas and headed home to Douglasville, Ga., to spend time with my family. Between jet lag and just being wiped out from the season, I completely crashed when I got there. I was so tired, I fell asleep the first night at 5:30, slept until 9 a.m. the next day and totally missed out on choosing our Christmas tree. I did manage to make it to the mall for my family’s other tradition: pajama shopping. We all pick out a new pair to wear during the holidays, and I got some warm and cozy flannel ones from Victoria’s Secret. Then, a few days after Christmas, I headed back overseas to Switzerland for New Year's Eve, and back to training.
I was ranked third in the world at the end of 2012, which is pretty awesome, but I’ve got work to do if I want to win gold in Sochi. But I’m in a good spot at this point in the season, learning a lot and continuing to improve. My goal is still to win the world championships in February, but I’d rather lose now and win Olympic gold, so 2014 is my main focus no matter the results this season.
With the Olympic year looming, my resolution for 2013 is to stress less and have more fun. I tend to stress myself out for no reason, whether it’s obsessing about race results, worrying about finances related to bobsled (with constant travel and training there never seems to be quite enough money), or juggling training with a job and school. I have to remind myself that I won’t be able to do bobsled for the rest of my life, so I have to make sure I let myself enjoy what I’m doing, while I’m doing it. So here's to a fun 2013!
If you haven't already heard, we have a few new additions to the USA national bobsled team -- and they came straight from the American track and field team. That's right, despite all the media criticism around track stars Lolo Jones, Tianna Madison and Hyleas Fountain joining in our team trials this year, Lolo and Tianna are officially on the roster as brakemen. (Hyleas unfortunately had an injury that kept her from spending enough time pushing to make the national team, but she'll still be able to participate in our development circuit, which means she can compete in the Europa Cup and other international races.)
The new additions give us a lot of depth, which was big since we didn't have many people returning from last year. We'll have three drivers (Jazmine Fenlator, Jamie Greubel, and me), and six brakemen (Lolo, Tianna, Emily Azevedo, Katie Eberling, Aja Evans and Cherrelle Garrett). In fact, it's funny, but every single woman on our roster was a track athlete first except for Katie -- who played volleyball -- and me -- a former softball player.
There's no doubt that track and bobsledding go hand in hand. I know Lolo and Tianna are hardly done with their running careers, but training for the two sports is actually very compatible. As bobsledders, our conditioning involves lifting that's similar to what they do when training for track. We do a little less running than they do, but I can tell you those girls are fully committed to bobsled and willing to do whatever they can to be as good as possible. They're here with us in Lake Placid and will both be in our first big competition, a World Cup race here, starting Friday.
I'm lucky to be paired with Tianna, and I'm looking forward to racing with her. I've got one of the fastest women in the world in the back of my sled -- which is a pretty good feeling going into race day. She's a little on the small side for bobsled but what she lacks in size she makes up in heart. That's why she's earned two nicknames: "Mighty Mouse" and "Mighty Madison." Not only that, Tianna knows how to compete. Usually it can be nerve-wracking to see how a rookie will respond to World Cup competition, but Tianna is no ordinary bobsled rookie. It's very reassuring to have an athlete who's already competed on the Olympic stage.
I was paired with Tianna because of her speed. I am one of the fastest pushing pilots in the world, and need someone fast as a brakeman. This track seems to suit her well, so we'll see what we can do on race day. We're going to go out there and have some fun. My goal is pretty simple: to drive well. Of course every athlete wants to win and I want it to, but I can't control the outcome, so I simply want to execute what I've been training.
The other teams are already here in Lake Placid training. Since we're only two years out from the Games, the drivers don't change much, so I'll be looking at my competition for 2014. The Germans are always among the top three sleds in the world, so I'll definitely be watching out for them, and there's a Canadian, Kaillie Humphries, who is a world champ on this track. Unlike the Germans, who try to outdrive everyone regardless of their start, Kaillie is all about the fast start. That's what we Americans go for too -- and we'll get our first test of how well we do it this weekend.