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From SoCal kids to elite bobsledders: 2 Olympians share their stories




Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs of the USA celebrate third place after their fourth run in the Women's Bobsleigh during Day 2 of the IBSF World Championships for Bob and Skeleton at Olympiabobbahn Igls on February 13, 2016 in Innsbruck, Austria.
Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs of the USA celebrate third place after their fourth run in the Women's Bobsleigh during Day 2 of the IBSF World Championships for Bob and Skeleton at Olympiabobbahn Igls on February 13, 2016 in Innsbruck, Austria.
Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

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In this winter's Olympics, there are a lot of California athletes hoping to bring home the gold for Team U.S.A. and the Golden State. 

Bobsledders Lauren Gibbs and Carlo Valdes, are two of those competitors with Southern California roots. Gibbs grew up in Pasadena and Valdes is from Newport Beach, so we wanted to know what their journeys to the Olympics were like.

What's it like to ride in a bobsled?

Gibbs is a brakeman, which means she pushes the sled to start each run and pulls the brake at the end. She said riding around the track in the sled was a unique experience.

"It was kind of like being kicked off a cliff in a trashcan. Imagine if someone threw you in the back of an SUV blindfolded and drove you around town. You would have no idea where you're going and you'd be jostled back and forth, that's kind of what it's like. So when I sit in the bobsled my head basically goes down in between my knees and then I just get shaken back and forth as we go around the track for a minute," Gibbs said.

How did you get started as a bobsledder?

Gibbs was a volleyball player at Brown University, which she says is an unusual background for a bobsledder. Most athletes come to the sport from track and field so Gibbs says she faced a steep learning curve, but she worked hard to improve.

"I think the biggest thing to being an elite level bobsledder is grit. You have to really want it. It's a very blue collar sport. We do a lot of the work ourselves; we sand the runners, we wash the sled, we help maintain the sled. Obviously, we have a sled mechanic that travels with us but a lot of the work we do ourselves. So you have to really want it and you have to really want to get better at it," Gibbs said.

Valdes was javelin thrower on the track and field team at University of California, Los Angeles. His coach suggested he try out for bobsled. At first, Valdes said he thought it was a crazy suggestion but it ended up working out well.

"It was a perfect fit because bobsled is a sport where it's speed and power. And I've always had the speed and then once I started throwing javelin I got a lot stronger in the weight room and that translates over to bobsled perfectly," Valdes said.

Bobsledder Carlo Valdes poses for a portrait ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games on September 26, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Bobsledder Carlo Valdes poses for a portrait ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games on September 26, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

How do you train from Southern California?

Valdes said it isn't easy to recreate the feeling of pushing a bobsled without a track with ice and ice can only be maintained during the bobsledding season, which lasts from about October to April. 

There is a dry-land track in Lake Placid, New York, Valdes said, but when he's home in Newport Beach he mainly trains by running and lifting weights.