When the 2014 Winter Olympics start in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, one of Douglas County’s own will be there — wearing red, white and blue for America while trying to win the gold.
Lithia Springs High School graduate Elana Meyers, 29, is making her second appearance in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. women’s bobsled team. She won the bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as a brakeman.
After a lot of hard work over the past three years, she’s become the U.S. team’s top driver, something her dad, former Atlanta Falcons running back Eddie Meyers, isn’t surprised by. Eddie said it usually takes about seven years to make the conversion from brakeman to pilot. But his daughter isn’t just any athlete.
“She’s been able to compress that time frame into three years and be ranked one of the top drivers in the world,” said Eddie, who still lives in Douglasville with his wife Janet. “That’s amazing. That’s amazing. But that’s where that work ethic comes into play because you’ve got to put in the time to get it out. She has.”
During her four years at Lithia Springs from 1998-2002, Meyers had a reputation for working hard and going after her goals. She was a multi-sport standout, but really excelled for the Lady Lions at softball, a sport she went on to play at George Washington University.
She had her sights set on making the Olympic softball team, but when softball was eliminated as an Olympic event, she took up bobsledding. And like she has throughout life, she’s found success.
Meyers is in Europe getting ready for the Olympics. But she took time to answer some questions via email recently:
I’ve read where you’re still training in Douglasville. Can you talk about your ties to the area? My parents still live in Douglasville and I live all over the place — basically out of a suitcase. I spend a few months every year in Douglasville and I still consider it my home. I train a lot at Chapel Hill High School.
Do you have friends and family in Douglasville? Of course! I’ve got my parents and an entire fan base. A lot of the people I graduated high school with still live in the county and of course I have my church family at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
What’s training like and how do you train for bobsledding in Douglasville in what is generally a pretty warm climate? During the summer we train like Olympic lifters and Olympic sprinters, so we can train anywhere in the world. We can’t bobsled year round because even in the coldest places it’s still not cold enough to keep ice on the bobsled track. Our sliding season only goes from October until March or April if the weather stays cold enough.
I know you spend a lot of time in Lake Placid. Where are you now and what are you doing? I am currently in Igls, Austria, for our World Cup race. In October, we start on ice and travel around the world to eight races, a different spot every week most of the time, to race and earn points so we can qualify for the Olympics.
How does someone from the South wind up excelling at a world-class level in a winter sport like bobsledding? Does that take a special kind of drive? Since your dad played for the Falcons, I guess I’m thinking about how you always hear people talking about how difficult it is for the “warm weather” Falcons to play in a place like the “frozen tundra” of Green Bay, Wisc. Is that a fair comparison to you excelling in a winter sport? At the age of 9, I decided I wanted to be an Olympian, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from reaching that goal.
I played softball, basketball, soccer and track growing up, but I loved softball, so went on to play in college and professionally. My dream was to make the Olympic team in softball and I had tryouts but did horrible and wasn’t able to make the team. I still had this dream however, and my parents saw bobsled on TV and suggested I try it. I then emailed a coach and they invited me up to Lake Placid, NY for a tryout.
The tryout is a combine (similar to an NFL combine) where they test your athleticism. I passed that combine and then they put me on ice behind a sled to see what I can do. I made the national team my first year. Anyone striving to be an elite athlete has to have a special kind of drive. The difference between the Falcons and me is that you can play football in warm weather and probably should! For bobsled, it has to be cold in order to do the sport. I don’t like cold weather, but if I have to deal with it to live my Olympic dreams, I will.
What’s the difference between a bronze medal and a gold medal in bobsledding? Racing is racing. Winning a bronze medal versus a gold medal doesn’t mean that the bronze medal winners didn’t work as hard as the gold medal winners, in fact, they may have worked harder. Winning a gold medal means you were able to be the best on those two days of racing at the Olympics. That’s why anything can happen. In bobsled you need a great push, a great drive and great equipment. I have all three and it’s just a matter of putting it all together on the two days of racing at the Olympics.
Can you talk about your move from brakeman to pilot for 2014. To a layman, how are the challenges different for each position? I wanted to drive since I first got into the sport, but I knew the only way I’d make the 2010 Olympics was as a brakeman. Pilots control their own destiny so to speak, you qualify through the points earned at races, where brakemen are selected by a committee for each sled.
Brakemen are more like linemen while pilots are more like quarterbacks. Brakemen have to have great physical qualities and be highly athletic and they’re judged on their athleticism, which makes or breaks their careers. Also, unfortunately, it’s a position that can be replaced if someone is slightly off. As a driver, much like a quarterback, I possess a unique skill that takes years to develop and is not as easy to replace. A driver (or pilot) actually navigates the sled down the track. We actually drive the sleds, it’s not just leaning back and forth.
Both driver and brakemen push the sled off the top of the track, but the driver loads first and then the brakemen. The driver then navigates the sled down the track, while the brakeman sits in the back and tries to maintain an aerodynamic position. The brakeman only pulls the brakes at the very end. Drivers must memories all tracks in the world (we go 75-92 mph) and make adjustments very quickly in order to get down safely and fast. Lot of mental work as a driver.
What else do you want your fans in Douglas County, Douglasville and Lithia Springs to know going into the Olympics? Thank you for all your support and encouragement. It’s been a long road to get here and I’m going to do my best to represent all of you to the best of my ability. I’ve dedicated my life to this and I hope to make you all proud. Rest assured I’m going to give it everything I have and we’ll see what happens.