Do you have Olympic Fever? Are you ready to try out new sports at high speeds? There are only 17 bobsled tracks on the planet with two open to “civilian” riders. In Park City, Utah you can chose to experience 3Gs of force and fly around on the ice in a 4-man bobsled! Personally I was terrified to even think of trying it, but I spent a year expanding out of my comfort zone and I considered the idea.
I grew up flying from Los Angeles to ski in Utah and was actually in the opening ceremonies of the 1984 LA Olympics. I have always wanted to be part of the Olympics again but was never a great athlete due to an undiagnosed eye issue. During my project last year, 50 Things Before I Turned 50, I had a chance to experience the Olympic Bobsled in winter after finally fixing my eyes.
Brent, the pilot, reassured me, “Lisa, I will bring you back. I promise.” I took a deep breath and sat down in seat #2 of the bobsled. Jessie, the coordinator at the Utah Olympic track, had selected my helmet and seat and promised it was the cadillac position where I would be least rocked by the 3Gs of force that I was about to experience. “How did I get myself into this?” I thought. I nearly backed out multiple times.
Earlier in the day I had enjoyed skiing down the double blue run Tycoon off of McConkey’s Lift at Park City Mountain, which felt like a big accomplishment. As a child, I was taught to ski because my dad would rather ski than breathe in the winter. But, I never liked it. It was cold, it was scary and just overall was not enjoyable for me. Once, I asked my dad about not going, he responded that “You can stay home.” I replied, “Dad, I am 12 years old” to which he said, “I guess you are going.” I remember thinking, “Good talk.”
As I kid, I did not enjoy roller coasters, water slides or even tetherball; all things that most children love to do. I hated them. I avoided as many as possible. Everyone thought I was wimpy and I believed that too. Instead I liked to read, I did well in school, and I always sat in the front of the class. Looking back, my pediatric optometrist could not correct my vision to 20/20, even with glasses. A second doctor agreed but told my parents that was not anything to worry about. So, I went on with my life.
After a near drowning, a bike accident, avoidance of sports and rides, and an overall fear of many things, I learned there was a reason for all my fears. As an adult, I was diagnosed with left intermittent esotropia, often known as a lazy eye. My new eye doctor offered a series of tests to determine the severity of my condition. I reviewed the report (visual discrimination 9%, visual form constancy 2%, visual figure ground 1% and visual spatial relations 37%), and asked the doctor if 1% was a good score? No, the doctor explained, “Lisa, 100% is a top score just like on every other test you have taken. Honestly, when I see scores like yours, I am just happy you can read.”
I was in shock to learn at the age of 47 that I was below 50% on many of the perceptual testing areas with a learning related visual skills problem and strabismus. “But, I have a Master’s Degree,” I reacted. “I do not want to take away from any of your accomplishments,” Dr. Brodney responded, “because of the oculomotor dysfunction, you have always had to work harder. Vision therapy can help you and I can promise you that you will be better at general motor activities including sports.”
I committed to weekly vision therapy and daily homework. It was a challenging time with frustration and tears. I reminded myself that the process involved retraining my brain and strengthening the muscles in my left eye so that my brain would use the information from both sides equally. I had no idea if all the vision therapy sessions would help and I contemplated quitting many times but I kept at it.
After many months of therapy, my eyes gradually learned how to work together. I started to try new things that previously were impossible. I took tennis lessons. My tennis coach would say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” I would think, “what ball? I don’t see it.” With practice, I learned how to track the ball. Similarly, when I tried skiing again I realized that it was fun and quite beautiful on the mountain. Being able to keep track of what is happening on both sides of me has allowed me to experience things with an entirely different perspective.
Sitting in the bobsled at Utah Olympic Park behind Brent, a professional bobsled driver, I took heart in that Brent was an expert who had been on the track more than 3,000 times. We went for 47.38 seconds around the track at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. I loved seeing the track curves fly by and feeling the force press me deeper into the bobsled. It was an exhilarating moment to ride on one of the two bobsled tracks in America that allow recreational riding. I conquered my fear of participating and put my newly trained eyes to a new test. I am confident that whatever curves appear next I will be ready to handle them.
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Lisa Niver has explored 99 countries and is in search of #100. See over 750 travel videos with nearly 1.6 million views and learn about her 50 before 50 adventures. Learn more about National Ability Center in her articles on Sierra Magazine, SkiUtah and USA Today.