Weeks after a Colorado woman first tried bobsledding, she made the U.S. national team

Weeks after a Colorado woman first tried bobsledding, she made the U.S. national team
Sylvia Hoffman of Colorado Springs went to a tryout last June in a contest to find America’s Next Olympic Hopeful. Now she is a member of USA Bobsled’s women’s national team with hopes of competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

When Sylvia Hoffman showed up at a 24 Hour Fitness gym in Aurora last June for a tryout to become America’s Next Olympic Hopeful, she didn’t even know which sport she would pursue if she qualified for the next step in the contest. She figured she’d just take the tests and hope for the best.

Now, the 29-year-old Colorado Springs resident is a legitimate Olympic prospect by virtue of being named a full-fledged member of USA Bobsled’s women’s national team in October, a month after the neophyte sledder became a USA Bobsled national champion. In recent weeks, she has been competing on the international circuit, careening down serpentine ice tracks on two continents at 70 to 80 miles per hour.

She hasn’t given up her other job, though. She continues to work part-time for a software company while on the road in Canada and Europe, just in case her newfound athletic career doesn’t work out. She has three years to learn the intricacies of the sport and prepare for the 2022 Olympic Trials.

“It’s going to be one heck of a journey,” said Hoffman, a former college basketball player who formerly competed internationally for USA Weightlifting. “I’m definitely ready, because I’m not going to be backing down.”

The Next Olympic Hopeful is an annual project of the U.S. Olympic Committee in partnership with 24 Hour Fitness, a longtime USOC sponsor. This year, nearly 3,500 athletes from around the country either applied online (sending in synopses of their athletic accomplishments) or participated in tryouts at 24 Hour Fitness clubs around the country that were held on June 2. Ninety of those were invited to the next step in the process, a national scouting camp four weeks later at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“I didn’t know anything about the Olympic hopeful camp. I just knew that it was a scouting camp, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ ” Hoffman said. “I just did the best that I could, because I don’t want to go into anything thinking that it’s going to be easy.”

She does have a strong athletic background. While growing up in Arlington, Texas, she played high school basketball and volleyball and competed in track and field. She played college basketball at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, and after graduation in 2013, she moved to Colorado Springs to start her career in computer information systems. She also trained as a weightlifter and has represented the U.S. three times in international championships. By the time she got to the Olympic hopeful tryout last summer, though, she knew her chances of becoming an Olympian in weightlifting were slim.

Tryout hopefuls were tested in sprinting, push-ups and a vertical jump. Hoffman’s basketball background paid off when she leaped nearly 31 inches in the jump.

“I was like, ‘Ah, still got it,’ ” she said.

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A couple of weeks later, Hoffman was invited to the five-day national scouting camp at the Olympic Training Center, but a few days before the camp she injured a foot in a weightlifting mishap. She couldn’t run on it until three days before the camp, and it still wasn’t healed.

“I had rolled ankles multiple times in basketball,” Hoffman said, “so I tried to think of it that way. ‘If I tape my ankle, I should be good.’ But there is also the adrenaline. Sometimes you can put a little Icy Hot or something on it and it will feel better, and with your adrenaline going, you tend to not feel anything. I ran as fast as I could, jumped as high as I could, and I ended up doing really well.”

So well, in fact, she was named one of eight finalists in the competition. Each of the participating Olympic sports — bobsled, skeleton, boxing, canoe/kayak, cycling, rowing, rugby and weightlifting — welcomed one of the Next Olympic Hopeful finalists to participate in a training camp.

“One of the coaches asked me which sport I wanted to do,” Hoffman said. “He’s like, ‘Because you’re honestly one of those that can do any sport you choose.’ I was like, ‘That’s the problem, I’m really good at everything, but I’m trying to be great at one thing.’ The bobsled coaches ended up taking a liking to me.”

She quickly proved her potential. In August, she came out on top at a USA Bobsled Rookie Push event, a competition that pitted hopefuls on a wheeled “push track” in Lake Placid, N.Y. A month later, she won the National Push Championships there, edging Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs. Soon, she became a full member of the national team, and in November won her first international race, pushing a sled driven by three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor in a Continental Cup race in Whistler, British Columbia.

Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs of the United States celebrate in the finishing area during the Women’s Bobsleigh heats on day twelve of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Olympic Sliding Centre on Feb. 21. (Alexander Hassenstein, Getty Images)

“It happened really fast,” Hoffman said.

So does a 75-mph bobsled run, which typically lasts less than a minute and exerts forces on the body that feel five times greater than normal. As a push athlete, Hoffman doesn’t have to steer. She just pushes the sled with all her might until it’s time to hop in behind the driver (or pilot), then hangs on for dear life.

Sylvia Hoffman of Colorado Springs, left, won a gold medal in her first international bobsled race on Nov. 8 on the Olympic track at Whistler, British Columbia, in a sled driven by Elana Meyers Taylor (right).

“Your driver jumps in, you’re right after them, and after that it’s head down and stay as loose as possible, holding on to the rails in the sled the best way that you can,” Hoffman said. “Our legs are outstretched, our heads are down between our knees. We feel that pressure, and sometimes it pushes us down. We try to stay as still as possible, but also as loose as possible. We can’t tense up or be stiff because that affects how the sled moves. Sometimes your butt comes off the seat and you’re like flying, still trying to push with your feet and hold on with your hands. I’ve never felt anything like it.”

After college, Hoffman worked as a lifeguard, as a member of the Geek Squad at Best Buy and at Hewlett Packard Enterprise before taking a job two years ago at Cherwell Software. While traveling the bobsled circuit, America’s Next Olympic Hopeful works remotely for the company in technical support. Sometimes that’s difficult when the WiFi is sketchy, as in Europe, but she still manages to work around 30 hours a week.

“I technically have two teams,” Hoffman said. “I have a team with USA Bobsled, and I also have my Cherwell team, my work team. Both teams have been very supportive, so I try to do the best I can to produce for both.”

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