Subtract the guys from Cool Runnings and the average person is going to have a hard time naming an Olympic bobsledder.
Maybe it’s because it’s a sport dominated by Nordic countries, maybe it’s because you never get to see who’s behind the helmet. Regardless, when news broke that Albion graduate, J.C. Cruse (‘11), was a 2018 Winter Olympics hopeful, I took the opportunity to find out more about the man in the sled.
Catching Cruse on his work break at CryoSpa Detroit, where he freezes people as a part-time job, he came across as young and spirited. Open and willing to discussing all aspects of his journey, the story of how he initially got into the sport was humorously inspiring.
“My friend signed me up,” said Cruse when asked how he went from a sociology major who played basketball and football to a member of the USA Developmental Bobsled team.
It turns out Cruse tried out for the team only after his coworker signed him up while at work. “He asked me seven questions and then said, ‘Okay, I just signed you up for the trials.’”
At that point Cruse had been focusing his efforts on his dream of being in the NFL, but after a trip to Utah, he was invited the next week to New York to continue training as a potential before eventually joining the official developmental roster in 2016.
One may wonder how a 6’ 2”, 220-pound NFL hopeful could make the transition to bobsledding so quickly, or how you even train as a bobsledder, and Cruse evidently had fielded the question before. In his new role as a brakemen, “it’s about being fast and powerful,” so there wasn’t much new to learn for the NFL prospect.
For those unfamiliar with the role of the brakeman, there’s a good clue in the title. During the run, in the two-man version of the sport, the brakemen plays the role of Robin as the pilot steers the batmobile-esque sled through the winding track. But it is before the run where brakemen, like Cruse, are most essential to obtaining the velocity needed to beat out competitors in the time-dependent sport .
Brakemen, known for their strength, serve as the driving force that propels the bobsleds to speeds at times greater than 90 mph. Traveling at these speeds has its imaginable risks, but fortunately Cruse hasn’t been in any serious accidents. Ask him about others however, and he can tell you of the time he watched a guy get “his shoulder basically burned off,” which can be expected when a 400 pound, 12 ½ foot sled falls on you at a speed that would add five points to your license.
When asked on his source of motivation for the sport, Cruse noted numerous sources. The amount of travel, international and domestic, the life-skills he had learned along the way, and above all, the breadth of people he met have made the experience unique.
Cruse will undoubtedly remember his time as a bobsledder but the diverse relationships he’s built are something he truly cherishes. From Harvard graduates and base jumpers, to a paralympian and the famous Lolo Jones, the last year and a-half has exposed Cruse to the true beauty of the world, its people. And even if it means googling the names of people he meets from time to time, the chance to absorb the full experience has been immensely rewarding.
With the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics one year away, Cruse’s chance to make the final roster is hopeful but regardless if he makes it or not, the Briton family will always be rooting for the success of one of their own.
*To help Cruse fund his Olympic dreams, donations can be made to his GoFundme below*
* Photo Courtesy of Geoff Gadbois, Cruse pictured on far left*