Kelly Curtis doesn’t want a fighter jet to fly quick.
Curtis, 33, will make her Olympic debut as a skeleton racer on Staff USA within the 2022 Winter Video games that start Wednesday in Beijing. Opening ceremonies are slated for Friday. The airman 1st class can also be the only real Air Pressure member among the many 9 U.S. troops, plus one alternate, who certified for this 12 months’s Olympic crew.
“It’s nonetheless setting in. I believed I might be again on base working round this time,” she advised Air Pressure Occasions in a Jan. 24 interview. “I’ll really feel like a real Olympian as soon as I take my first runs in official coaching.”
Presently ranked No. 14 on the earth by the Worldwide Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, Curtis has spent the previous two years juggling skeleton coaching whereas becoming a member of the Air Pressure amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She enlisted via the service’s World-Class Athlete Program, which gives potential and present airmen a path to a army profession whereas being nationally ranked of their sport.
Curtis likes that she will comply with within the footsteps of her members of the family who served within the army. It additionally supplies a steady job to help an costly sport.
“After we journey for our season, we’re away from our houses October via April, so discovering a gentle supply of revenue has all the time been a battle,” Curtis mentioned in a September 2020 press launch. “I’ve had conditions the place I’ve needed to determine between one other coaching run or consuming dinner that evening.”
Skeleton is just not for the faint of coronary heart. Armed with solely a helmet and a bare-bones sled, racers dash down a curved ice monitor, bounce face-down onto their sled, and jettison themselves headfirst towards the end at greater than 80 mph. Their chins hover an inch or two above the ice whereas pulling as much as 5 G’s on the sled.
An elite run takes simply over one minute to go a few mile; every efficiency earns factors towards an athlete’s seasonal rating.
Curtis competed in heptathlons — a seven-part track-and-field competitors of jumps, hurdles, working and throwing — as an undergraduate earlier than discovering bobsled in graduate faculty.
“I used to be all the time too scared to do it. I didn’t actually really feel like I had what it took to be a bobsledder, and I additionally didn’t just like the chilly,” she mentioned. “When I discovered myself in grad faculty in upstate New York, I used to be already within the chilly, so I used to be like, ‘If I’m going to be up right here, I would as properly be doing one thing enjoyable.’”
Her transient time in bobsledding launched her to the same sport of skeleton. She was hooked and commenced competing in 2014.
Talking from Chula Vista, California, which hosts an Olympic coaching facility the place American athletes have been gearing as much as depart for China, Curtis mentioned changing into an airman has taken a leap just like that of studying skeleton.
“The primary few weeks of fundamental coaching, you’re questioning what you bought your self into, after which by the tip … you’re just about settled in and immersed within the tradition,” she mentioned. “You unlock an entire new degree of understanding and appreciation.”
Curtis enlisted in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, however she discovered that delivery out to fundamental army coaching in July 2020 offered construction in an in any other case unmoored offseason.
“As soon as the pandemic began, all the pieces was just about thrown for a loop,” she mentioned. “Essentially the most exercise I might get can be occurring my day by day stroll.”
Curtis graduated from fundamental coaching in August 2020 and accomplished technical faculty at Keesler Air Pressure Base, Mississippi, remotely through Zoom final 12 months.
She and her husband moved to Italy within the fall for her first job with the thirty first Communications Squadron at Aviano Air Base, the place she’ll safe computer systems and different networks in opposition to assaults. It’s the “solely communications squadron south of the Alps supporting completely assigned fighter plane” for the U.S. Air Pressure in Europe, the service mentioned.
Curtis hasn’t began work but — she jumped into her sliding season per week after arriving in Italy. Nonetheless, the World-Class Athlete Program lets her know when she has coaching or different necessities due again house.
Competing on the highest degree of her sport for the primary time means she has little prior data of the tracks she should face. She’s tried to disregard the strain that comes with racing in opposition to the perfect on the earth.
To qualify for the Olympics, Curtis rose via a number of rounds of competitors that culminated in a World Cup race in Switzerland on Jan. 14. She positioned sixth, her finest end this season, and overtook teammate Megan Henry for a spot in Beijing.
Three of the U.S. Olympic Staff’s skeleton athletes are within the Winter Video games this 12 months: Curtis and veteran slider Katie Uhlaender within the ladies’s division, and Andrew Blaser within the males’s division. It’s the smallest Olympic skeleton delegation from Staff USA because the sport rejoined the Winter Video games in 2002.
Curtis says she’s not aiming for a selected objective in Beijing’s ladies’s skeleton heats, slated for Feb. 11-13.
“I’m actually wanting ahead to getting again on my sled and competing properly and representing properly,” she mentioned. “If I can stroll away realizing that I put out my finest effort, I’ll be actually excited and see how far more I can enhance.”
The 2022 Olympics come amid the U.S. army’s effort to venture energy within the Pacific and vie with China for affect around the globe. However “nice energy competitors” isn’t a part of Curtis’s playbook.
“I’m simply going to give attention to what I can management and attempt to let all the pieces else be,” she mentioned. “There are numerous totally different circumstances that might be occurring behind the scenes that I don’t have any thought about or clue about, so I’m simply going to attempt to do my job and placed on an important present for everyone.”
Curtis already has her eye on the 2026 Winter Video games in Italy, plus a fee within the Air Pressure.
“I do know I have to do quite a bit in my profession discipline to earn that spot,” she mentioned of changing into an officer. “I’m undecided precisely how I’ll get down each of these paths, however I’m engaged on it.”
Rachel Cohen joined Air Pressure Occasions as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Pressure Journal, Inside Protection, Inside Well being Coverage, the Frederick News-Put up (Md.), the Washington Put up, and others.