Most Americans are familiar with bobsledding and are becoming increasingly familiar with the luge. But the concept of an athlete lying flat on their stomach and racing headfirst down a spiraling ice track at speeds of 80 miles per hour is relatively knew if not a little bit crazy.
Katie Uhlaender admits it’s the crazy part of skeleton that keeps bringing her back for more. After playing baseball, softball, golf and trying her hand at skiing and power lifting and whatever sport she could try, she met a bobsledder who introduced her to a whole new competitive world.
In this CSJ conversation interview, Uhlaender talks about her diverse athletic background, the influence of her deceased father, former Major League Baseball pitcher Ted Uhlaender, and how her faith gives her strength and purpose:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your athletic background and how that led you to pursue skeleton? Katie Uhlaender: I started skiing when I was 18 months old, but I was raised as an athlete. I ran track, played baseball, softball, golf, did power lifting, and whatever sport I could try. Sports have always been a constant in my life. When I had just graduated high school, I met a bobsledder who suggested that I try out for the team. I did and fell in love with the rush. From there I moved on to skeleton.
Bonham: How do you stay motivated competing in a sport that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the United States outside of the Olympic years?
Uhlaender: I do it for myself. I am my own motivator because I love it so much. Just like in life, there are challenging days or weeks, but it’s part of my identity and it what makes me thrive.
Bonham: How much influence did your dad have on your athletic career?
Uhlaender: My dad was really my role model for sports and he would always push me. He wasn’t the kind of dad who would let me win. He forced me to figure out for myself strategically how I could be my best.
Bonham: Tell me about your faith background.
Uhlaender: My grandmother, my dad’s mom, was a huge influence on my faith. I went to church with her every Sunday when we visited her in south Texas. So I started to go on my own as many days as I could because the church youth groups were a ton of fun for me. The Lord plays a huge role in my life. I am on the path He wants me to be on.
Bonham: When you lost your dad, did that challenge your faith, strengthen your faith or perhaps a little bit of both?
Uhlaender: I would say it did both. I knew that I wasn’t meant to understand why it had happened and that there was a plan, but it didn’t stop me from being upset about it or frustrated from not understanding.
Bonham: How does your faith play into your athletic career today?
Uhlaender: Quitting is never an option, so why would I quit on God? He guides me and gives me the strength to keep going.
Bonham: What does it mean to you to be called an Olympian?
Uhlaender: Being an Olympian is a huge honor. It represents something that I have had to work extremely hard for and the biggest honor is representing my country. I take a huge amount of pride in that.
Bonham: What’s the one thing you would most like the American public to understand about the sport of skeleton?
Uhlaender: It is all about letting go and finding speed by generating momentum with your body. It’s no different than racecar driving except our bodies are the suspension, which brings a few more unknown variables to the naked eye.
Bonham: How has being involved in the sport molded you into the person you are today?
Uhlaender: Adversity helped mold me and my successes gave me confidence. But my family and the people that I’ve met have taught me more than I can say through their support and love.
Photos: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC