Guard Soldier: From Track to Bobsledder to Olympian

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

Track and field and bobsledding aren’t often thought of as similar sports: Summer vs. winter. Ice vs. track. Giant steel sled vs. … well… mostly feet.

NY Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Cunningham. Army photo

But when you really think about it, there’s a good amount of sprinting involved in both. That transition is how New York Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Cunningham got started in the sport of bobsledding a decade ago. Now, he’s prepping for his third Olympics.

Cunningham, 32, of Monterey, California, is a member of one of the three U.S. bobsled teams that qualified for the Pyeongchang Olympics this year, and he’s got lots of experience. Cunningham was on two- and four-man teams at both the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics.

And oh yeah – he’s got that military experience, too. Cunningham is one of a few 2018 Olympians who’s also a soldier in the New York Army National Guard.

His athletic career started at Monterey Peninsula College before he transferred to Boise State University, where he was the captain of the track and field team. He graduated with a degree in communications in 2008. That same year, he decided to try out bobsledding. Bursts of speed are required to get the sleds going, so he figured it wasn’t too far a cry from sprinting on a track.

You could say it was a successful change, too, since he made it to the Vancouver Olympics two years later.

After that experience, Cunningham heard about the World Class Athlete Program and decided to join the Army, where he’s a carpentry and masonry specialist. Some of his duties include helping with natural disaster recovery efforts, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Cunningham (front) pushes a modified bobsled during practice. DoD photo by David Vergun

In Vancouver, Cunningham served as a brakeman, but he’s since transitioned to the role of driver, which is pretty much the pilot of the bobsled in charge of steering. It’s his job to make sure the team is working well together and is “loading” when they’re supposed to, meaning piling on the bobsled after the push phase.

It’s a pretty big responsibility.

“I can get someone killed in this sport,” Cunningham told Army News Service. “You’re basically going down a twisting mile-long track at 90 mph with no seatbelt. We go flat-out. We don’t touch the brakes until we reach the bottom.”

Fun fact: Cunningham also has a master’s degree in athletic coaching. So maybe when he retires from bobsledding, he’ll try his hand at that?

Good luck to him and the rest of the U.S. military Olympians!

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