L ike many of his peers, Hampton resident and Whitehall High graduate Ryan Sweeney spent the summer after his college graduation preparing for and growing accustomed to life after school. However, Sweeney’s post-college plans are a little different than his peers. While they were applying to graduate school or getting their first taste of the professional world, Sweeney spent his time rocketing down an icy track at 80 miles an hour.
Sweeney is part of a young United States Bobsled and Skelton team that is enjoying a banner year on this season’sAmerica’s Cup tour. In the first two stops on the tour, the team has racked up a total of 19 medals, and although Sweeney has yet to step atop the medal podium, the promising skeleton athlete has recorded several top ten finishes.
In the first stop on the tour, held Nov. 9-12 in Park City, Utah, Sweeney finished as the highest U.S. with a seventh place finish in the first race. He slid an identical time of 51.66 seconds in his second race, finishing in 13th place.
Sweeney followed up that strong showing with an even better performance at the second stop of the tour, held Nov. 17-20 inCalgarywith a pair of sixth place finishes.
Not bad for someone whose only been sliding for the past three years.
A 2007 graduate of Whitehall High and a 2011 graduate of Castleton State College, Sweeney was an active member of the Whitehall Bobsledding program. However it wasn’t skeleton that captivated Sweeney’s imagination but bobsledding.
He competed in bobsleds for several years, even earning a gold medal at the Empire State Games with fellowWhitehallnative Sarah Hart.
Despite a natural aptitude for the sport, Sweeney didn’t necessarily have the physical skills the sport demanded.
“At this level, I’m way too small for a bobsledder,” said Sweeney who is listed at 5’11” and 180 pounds on the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s website, hardly a diminutive stature among the general population, but undersized in a sport where collegiate and professional football players have been recruited to push sleds.
It was that realization and his sisters, currentWhitehallstudents Emily and Olivia, involvement with the skeleton that began to generate an interest in the sport.
“My sisters actually go me interested; they were involved with the sport in the Jr. club and I decided to give it a try. I called up Coach Don Hass and set up a driving school and we went from there,” Sweeney said. “The Jr. Bobsled program was a big stepping stone for all this.”
Sweeney fell in love with the sport in which competitors travel down an icy track, face first, at speeds up to 80 mph while experiencing up to 5 g’s of force.
“It’s a definite adrenaline rush and I really like the competition. The one concept I like, it’s that even though you’re competing as a team, it’s still individual. It’s all on you,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney spent his first two years competing part time in between school and dedicated himself to the sport full time following graduation.
“The whole summer was dedicated to this season,” said Sweeney, who worked two jobs, weight trained, and took part in the national team Combine which is used to evaluate sliders athleticism much like the NFL does with collegiate prospects.
Because of his hard work and previous performances, Sweeney qualified to compete for theUSteam at theAmerica’s Cup, his first international experience.
“It’s a neat feeling to compete against different nations and represent theUnited States,” said Sweeney.
Only 22 years old, Sweeney is one of the younger sliders in theU.S.program.
He’s hoping to use his experience on theAmerica’s Cup to eventually one day qualify for the national team.
He said the top national team has six sliders, three of which get full funding and three which get partial funding. Sweeney currently receives no training and is responsible for all his own training, equipment, travel and lodging expenses.
He said he’s looking for sponsors and works at Shaw’s in Fair Haven and the Rutland Regional Medical Center (he has a degree in exercise science) to help cover expenses and has put off grad school to see where this can take him.
His ultimate goal is to one day compete in the Winter Olympics, most likely inSouth Koreain 2018.
In the meantime he will compete in the thirdAmerica’s Cup race which begins today inLake Placid. TheAmerica’s Cup will wrap up inLake Placidat the end of March.