Making Olympic bobsled team a dream Geneva grad Hickey is chasing
Editor's note: Three Geneva High School graduates since 2007 who all ran track for the Vikings -- Tyler Hickey, Kevin McDowell and Eric Young -- all have become Olympic-level athletes in other sports: bobsled, triathlon and cycling, respectively. We'll look back at how each of them got there, starting with Hickey, a 2012 Geneva grad hoping to make the 2022 U.S. bobsled team.
Back during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Tyler Hickey was a sophomore at Geneva High School hanging out with friends like Matt Williams, Drew White and Andy Francis.
All football players, the group found themselves intrigued watching the bobsled competition.
"Someone brought up bobsled and the type of athletes who are bobsledders are collegiate and professional football players, sprinters, people like that, fast and powerful," Hickey said. "We joked we should all try out when we graduated from college. I guess for me it was a little more serious than that."
Indeed, it is. Hickey, now living in Lake Placid, New York at the Olympic Training Center, is preparing for a critical 2021 when he will try to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Hickey, whose parents Kevin and Dana Hickey still live in Geneva, is currently doing team trials for four-man races after recently completing two-man trials. Depending on his times, he will compete in either the North American Cup or World Cup this year before the Olympic trials take place in October, 2021.
Hickey is his team's pilot, or person responsible for steering the bobsled, trying to position his team to be one of the top three sleds in the U.S.
"My goal for several years has been to make the Olympic team for the 2022 games in Beijing," Hickey said. "This next year is a very important one for me."
After graduating in 2012 from Geneva where he ran the 400 meters in track and played wide receiver in football, Hickey headed to Davidson College. He graduated with a math degree, and he was set to become a math teacher and high school coach ... except first he wanted to give his bobsled dream a chance.
He played three years of football at Davidson before focusing on training for the bobsled as a senior. Bobsled tryouts require an objective test of sprint times, broad jumps and different lifts to see if athletes have the combination of speed and strength to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
"I had done tons of research on the sport," Hickey said. "I used football as training for bobsled. Every time I was in the weight room for football, I was thinking of it as something that would help me after football. Most Olympic sports are things you specialize in from an early age because the skill required in the sport is so extreme."
Hickey started in bobsled as a push athlete, a brakeman. Hickey describes them as the bobsledders who provide a majority of the horsepower that goes into the sled at the beginning of the run. They are some of the best athletes -- big, strong and fast -- he has ever seen.
Unfortunately, in his second bobsled race, Hickey was involved in a serious crash that occurred in turn six of 15.
"I took the final nine turns upside down on my head and neck with a sled that weighs several hundred pounds essentially dragging me down," said Hickey, who suffered third degree burns on his back. "As it's happening it's the most intense pain of my life, a 12 on a 10. That moment I decided I'd come back from that there was nothing that would stop me. I'd seen the worst of it. The rest would be easy from a physical and mental standpoint."
Hickey moved from a brakeman to the pilot, and he has spent the last five years training with success in U.S. competitions and also on international tours in Canada, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
Hickey said a pilot provides skill and experience in a tense sport with the bobsled reaching speeds of 80 to 90 miles an hour.
"There's no such thing as a smooth bobsled ride," Hickey said. "It's a very chaotic experience. We are talking millimeters every turn we are trying to hit so we can optimize time."
Currently Hickey is in a bubble at the Olympic Training Center. He decided not to visit his parents for Thanksgiving because it would have meant a 14-day quarantine when he returned.
He's hopeful 2021 turns out to be his best year yet in the sled, qualifying for the Olympics to cap a journey that began with some good high school friends watching a new sport on TV and wondering. The sport already has taken Hickey places he never dreamed.
Hickey still says in touch weekly with those high school buddies, sharing experiences he didn't expect.
"I've had some incredible opportunities to travel the world," Hickey said. "I've met some incredible people and seen some really unique cultures."