Taking advantage of Olympic-year visibility, US bobsled, skeleton teams sliding for causes

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Saturday, November 14, 2009

US bobsled, skeleton teams slide for causes

PARK CITY, Utah — Knowing plenty of eyes will be on their sleds during the Olympic season, the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams have come up with a way to capitalize.

They’re sliding for causes this winter.

Starting with this weekend’s World Cup in Utah and all the way through the Vancouver Games, USBSF athletes will have stickers on their sleds to raise awareness for charitable and research organizations. It was a spur-of-the-moment idea hatched in recent days. Decals arrived Thursday night, and some sliders broke them out for the first time in racing Friday.

“It’s our way to give back,” said USBSF spokeswoman Amanda Bird, whose 2-year-old niece was diagnosed with leukemia this summer.

Causes selected by the federation included the American Cancer Society, Autism Speaks, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Each of those bear personal significance to someone within the team, which needed approval from those organizations to affix the decals to their sleds. In some cases, USBSF athletes or staff either lost parents to those diseases or are seeing relatives currently battle one of them, while others have spent years volunteering for a particular cause.

“We’re putting everything into perspective,” said women’s bobsledder Bree Schaaf. “We know how great we have it. This is a great life. We travel the world bobsledding, professional sleigh riders, it’s awesome. You can’t beat this, so I wanted to put something I love so much on the sled.”

Schaaf’s tribute was to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Since 2001, she’s volunteered at the Stanley Stamm Summer Camp, which provides the hospital’s seriously ill children with a chance to enjoy a week of activities typically not available to them because of their conditions.

When the e-mail about the idea arrived from Darrin Steele, the USBSF’s CEO, Schaaf said she just happened to be on her computer and responded within 45 seconds.

“It means so much to me,” Schaaf said. “And to be able to put it on the sled, just get it out there that there’s great things going on like that, then great.”

Bobsled pilot John Napier asked for the American Cancer Society logo, a tribute to his father, former USBSF president and longtime bobsledder William Napier, who died of cancer in June 2005. He’s hardly the only athlete on the team affected by cancer: two-time World Cup skeleton champion Katie Uhlaender’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008 and died last winter.

Push athlete Steve Langton picked Autism Speaks, a tribute to a 21-year-old cousin diagnosed with autism when he was 4. Women’s bobsled push athlete Emily Azevedo chose the National Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation, since her mother was once told she’d likely die of the disease within five years — and is now a 25-year survivor.

“Nothing is impossible,” Azevedo said.

Former women’s skeleton world champion Noelle Pikus-Pace will display the logo of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz chose Make-A-Wish, which he first worked with while playing football at Nebraska. Choosing the Muscular Dystrophy Association was easy for Olympic silver medalist Valerie Fleming, who has an aunt and three cousins living with muscular dystrophy.

“We spend a great deal of time and effort asking for support to sustain our organization,” Steele said. “These athletes remind us we also have the means and the responsibility to give back.”

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