By Jamal Yearwood, '17
Subtract the guys from Cool Runnings and the average person is going to have a hard time naming an Olympic bobsledder.
Maybe it's because it's a sport dominated by Nordic countries, maybe it's because you never get to see who's behind the helmet. Regardless, when news broke that Albion graduate, J.C. Cruse, '11, was a 2018 Winter Olympics hopeful, I took the opportunity to find out more about the man in the sled.
Catching Cruse on his work break at CryoSpa Detroit, where individuals ranging from from elite athletes to weekend warriors to couch potatoes can rejuvenate from three-minute cryotherapy treatments, he came across as engaging and spirited. Open and willing to discuss all aspects of his journey, the story of how he initially got into the sport was humorously inspiring.
"My friend signed me up," Cruse, a sociology major who was an all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team pick while playing basketball for the Britons as well as the second-leading receiver for the 2011 MIAA champion football team, when asked how he became a member of the USA Developmental Bobsled team.
It turns out Cruse tried out for the team only after his coworker signed him up while at work. "He asked me seven questions and then said, 'OK, I just signed you up for the trials.'"
At that point Cruse had been focusing his efforts on his dream of playing in the NFL. After a trip to Utah, however, he was invited the next week to New York to continue bobsled training before eventually joining the official developmental roster in 2016.
One may wonder how a 6' 2", 220-pound NFL hopeful could make the transition to bobsledding so quickly, or how you even train for the sport. Cruse evidently had fielded the question before. In his new role as a brakeman, "it's about being fast and powerful."
For those unfamiliar with the role of the brakeman, there's a good clue in the title. In the two-man version of the sport, the brakeman serves as the driving force that propels the bobsleds to speeds at times greater than 90 mph. His strength and power are essential to generating the velocity needed to beat out competitors in the timed sport.
Traveling at high speeds on a twisting course has its risks, but fortunately Cruse hasn't been in any serious accidents. Ask him about others however, and he can tell you of the time he watched a guy get "his shoulder basically burned off," which can be expected when a 400-pound, 12 ½ foot sled falls on you.
When asked about his source of motivation for the sport, Cruse noted the amount of travel, international and domestic, the life-skills he had learned along the way, and above all, the breadth of people he met have made the experience unique.
Cruse will undoubtedly remember his time as a bobsledder, but the diverse relationships he's built are something he truly cherishes. From Harvard graduates and base jumpers, to a Paralympian and American hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones, the last 18 months has exposed Cruse to the true beauty of the world – its people. And even if it means googling the names of people he meets from time to time, the chance to absorb the full experience has been immensely rewarding.
With the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea a year away, Cruse's chance to make the final roster is hopeful. Regardless if he makes it or not, the Briton family will always be rooting for the success of one of their own.