02-09-2014 08:57 PM
The Winter Games officially kicked off Friday, Feb. 7, and the eyes of the world will be watching Sochi, Russia. While we’ll all be rooting for America's athletes, a special group of them also will be getting cheers from USAA members and members of the military alike.
Based at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colo., the Army’s World Class Athlete Program has proved itself a success. In 17 years, the program has helped 55 soldier-athletes earn medals at the Summer or Winter Olympic Games, and it’s sending 10 to compete this year in Sochi.
The training that soldiers receive in WCAP comes from some of America’s best coaches and trainers. While they’re training, the soldiers also are advancing their military careers and helping promote the Army on the world stage. Learn more about WCAP.
Soldiers, athletes, members
Several WCAP athletes are also USAA members, and they share the same values that help make USAA what it is.
Christopher Fogt, from the USA-1 bobsled team, has quite the story of dedication and service. Sochi will be Fogt’s second trip to the Winter Games, after competing in the four-man bobsled event in 2010.
“I think the first time, I was just happy to be there. I was an Olympian,” Fogt said. “This time around, I made USA-1. We’ve won nine of 16 races this season, so the expectations this time around are much bigger. I want to come home with a medal.”
After the 2010 games, Fogt, who’s been a USAA member since 2006, spent a year deployed to Iraq. “Being in Iraq was mentally tough,” he said. “There are a lot of really long days. You go through things that are hard, to be blunt.
“When I returned to the States on July 4, 2011, I had lost some weight and strength,” he added. “But deployment had helped me become mentally strong. I learned that my body will do what my mind tells it to do. I’ve trained a lot harder and have gained a lot of power, strength and speed, just because I’ve been mentally stronger.”
Service runs in the Fogt family. “My dad was a reservist for 30 years, but I actually think I started a trend in my family,” he said. “I have a brother at Fort Hood and another in ROTC right now. My brother-in-law’s also joined the reserves.
“I feel a lot of strength from the support I’m getting from the military. I’ve received emails from friends stationed in places like South Korea, Afghanistan, Germany, Fort Hood and Fort Drum,” Fogt said. “That’s a huge part of my strength — the camaraderie that comes with the military.”
While Fogt certainly has high expectations for himself this year, he added: “I’m not just representing the USA. That’s what we’re all here to do. I’m hoping to represent all the soldiers and civilians out there who sacrifice so much for this nation.”
Leaders on and off the hill
Bill Tavares, the American team's luge coach, has coached athletes to more than 100 World Cup or World Championship medals. Sochi will mark his sixth trip to the Winter Games, including a 1992 trip to Albertville, France, as a competitor on the luge team. Tavares joined the military in 1982 and has been a USAA member since 1988.
As a coach, Tavares has seen many opportunities to shine on the world stage. “It’s been great to help get soldiers on the podium,” he said. “The 2002 women’s bobsled team won gold in Salt Lake City. In 2006, the two-woman event won a silver in Torino, Italy. In 2010, our four-man team won the gold in Vancouver. We also won a bronze that year with the women’s team.”
The nerves are a bit stronger as a coach than Tavares remembers from his days racing down the hill. “As an athlete, you have a lot of control over the outcome. It’s largely up to you,” he said. “But as a coach? You don’t have that same level of control. Once the team gets up on the hill, it’s all out of your hands.”
Nerves aside, Tavares has a lot to look forward to this year. He expects to see several of his World Cup medalists on on the American team at the Winter Games receive medals in Sochi. He’s also coaching two soldiers who could finish in the top 10.
But Tavares understands that there’s more to life than Olympic glory. “It’s not about us,” he said. “It’s not about what we accomplish as individuals, but what we can accomplish as a country.
“We want to make sure that everyone understands that we love what we do for this country. We’re serving in the military and as athletes and coaches on Team USA,” Tavares said. “Whether sliding down the hill or serving on a base, what a rewarding thing it is to be supporting the red, white and blue. That’s what it’s all about.”
Images courtesy flickr.com/usolympicteam.
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