Friday, December 18, 2020

Charlie Volker, Bobsledder

TigerBlog was expecting a call Wednesday from Fred Samara, the head men's track and field coach at Princeton.

He didn't have Fred's number in his contacts. Usually, when he gets a call from a number he doesn't recognize, it turns out to be an urgent message about the extended warranty on his car, which, by the way, he has no extended warranty on his car.

When his phone rang, he saw that it was a number he didn't know, and so he almost didn't answer it. Ah, but it's a good thing he did, since it was Fred on the other end.

TB remembers when caller ID first became a thing. He remembers the running joke was "hey, nobody is ever going to answer your call," which is what everyone said to all of their friends.

When call waiting came along, that was worse, especially before you could see who the other caller was. Now it was "hey, I know I'm in the middle of talking to you, but it's possible somebody more important is on the other line."

Anyway, he's glad he got to speak to Fred. For one thing, it's always good to talk to Fred. For another, he wanted to talk to him about one of his former athletes, Charlie Volker, a football/track and field alum who is now a U.S. national team bobsledder.

TB is in his second go-round as the Princeton football contact for the Office of Athletic Communications, after having done so from 1994-2001 the first time. When he found out about Volker's new vocation, he texted the football contact in between his two stints, his former colleague Craig Sachson, to ask him if he'd seen the news about Volker and what he thought. Was Volker the kind of guy he thought would make a bobsledder?

Sachson's response: "This surprised me less than almost any other player would have."

Armed with that, TB set up to speak with Volker. 

TB had been the PA announcer for Volker's football career at Princeton, but he'd never met actually met him before. As such, he also invited Princeton head football coach Bob Surace to join them on Zoom.

Surace being Surace, he asked the question that cut right through to the heart of everything:

"Charlie, what do your parents think of this?"

That's a really good question. TB's best question was "have you ever seen 'Cool Runnings.'"

If you've seen "Cool Runnings," you know it's a fictionalized version of the 1988 Jamaican Olympic bobsled team. The basic premise was that a team of great sprinters became bobsledders and made an immediate impact on the sport at its highest level.

It's a cute and charming movie, one of the best sports movies TB has ever seen. It's a classic root-for-the-underdog story, with four Jamaican sprinters (including one named "Sanka Coffee" and another named "Yul Brenner") and their coach, played by John Candy.

If you haven't seen it and you're looking for something really good to watch, check it out. 

On a bigger scale than just being quality entertainment, it's sort of a true story, or at least based on one. Jamaica did field a team at the 1988 Olympics. 

TB won't ruin the end of the movie for you, but if you've seen it, that actually did happen for the Jamaicans in their sled. 

The basic premise of creating a team for Jamaica was to get sprinters into bodsleds. That's the case for Volker, who graduated in 2019.

Volker isn't from a Caribbean island nation, but he is more from the shore than he is from the snowy mountains. He came to Princeton from Rumson-Fair Haven High School, which isn't exactly known as a winter sports hotbed.

The short version of the story is that Volker won a lot of championships at Princeton in both football and track and field, is an athletic freak and is now an aspiring Olympic bobsledder. More than that, he just qualified for the U.S. national team for the first time, and he'll be heading off Europe for some races after the new year. 

TB doesn't want to give away the rest. 

Hey, you can read it for yourself.

He will say, though, that bobsledding isn't something TB would want to do. He was in Lake Placid once in the summer, and you can still go down the bobsled track there in a cart on wheels. TB wanted no part of that.

But Volker? He's perfect for it. His early success will only fuel his determination.

TB wishes him nothing but Cool Runnings.

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