Seth C: The first thing is to tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you right now and what is your relation to Texas Tech?
Caitlin Carter: I am currently in Lake Placid, NY, for the final two North American Cup races of the season, as well as a few extra weeks of training. During the season, which lasts from October through late March, I split time between Lake Placid, NY, Park City, UT, Calgary, AB, and Whistler, BC. Hopefully next season I'll get to slide on some tracks in Europe. In the off season, I live in Carrollton, TX, and I work as a sports performance coach at a gym in Prosper, TX.
I grew up in Arizona, but I was raised a Red Raider. I remember watching their games on TV and even going to a couple, like the Copper Bowl in 1995 which was held in Arizona. I attended Texas Tech from 2007-2009 to earn a Masters in Exercise and Sport Sciences with an emphasis in Sport Psychology. My brother, Cameron, received his Bachelors degree from Tech, as did my mom, Kathy. My dad, Stuart, also attended Tech for a while, and both he and my brother were Saddle Tramps. While working on my Masters degree, I was a volunteer strength and conditioning intern. I absolutely love the school spirit and the camaraderie that is shared with other Red Raiders.
Seth C: So you graduated in 2009, so between then and now, you some how got into the sport, Skeleton? How in the heck does this sort of thing happen?
Caitlin Carter: In May 2011, while working as a sports performance coach, I was training a woman in her early 20s, and I asked what sport she was training for. She said she was getting ready for a bobsled and skeleton combine. I knew was bobsled was, thanks to the movie Cool Runnings, and we got to talking about the combine. Turns out it was being held 4 weeks from then in McKinney, TX, which was maybe 15-20 minutes away from the gym we were currently at. I thought maybe I could go take this combine and do pretty well at it, although I wanted to do bobsled. After talking to her more, she told me that I was too small for bobsled and was a better size for skeleton. So when I signed up for the combine I checked the box for skeleton, not even fully understanding what I was signing up for.
The combine tests an athlete in 8 events, each with a maximum point value of 100. The 8 events are a 15 m, 30 m, 45 m, and 30 m fly sprint, followed by a standing long jump, underhand shot put toss for distance, max power clean, and 3 rep max back squat. With my background in competitive olympic weightlifting, and a few years of track and field from middle and high school, I figured I could alright. That first year you needed a minimum score of 600 to be invited into the program, with 700+ being classified as "emerging elite". They have since raised the minimum score to 650. I scored a 719, and I was invited to attend a "sliding school" in Lake Placid in November, as well as race in the dry land push competition help in September.
I was really just in the right place at the right time, and since I hadn't found a full time career yet, I figured I could run off for a few months and see what happened.
Seth C: I just can't imagine just signing up for a sport like that, but I'm not in the shape that you're in. Did you participate in athletics prior to the skeleton or are you just one of those people that just works out? What is the training for you right now? Is training for competition different than your general training?
And I'll also get this out of the way, we'd love to have some video of you doing this and to describe an actual race. How long is a track? How fast do you go? I can't imagine keeping my wits about me as I race down a track
Caitlin Carter: I've been participating in sports and competing since I was a kid. Track and field and volleyball were my sports in middle and high school. In college as an undergraduate, I was a practice player for the volleyball team at Northern Arizona University, and also during this time is when I learned of Olympic weightlifting. There was an Olympic lifting club in Flagstaff, and I enjoyed it, so I started competing. I competed for several years, including during my time at Texas Tech. When I moved to the Dallas area, I learned about women's professional football. I played a year of that before taking the combine for skeleton. I miss football, and I'd love to go back and play it again someday, but for now, I want to put all of my effort, time, and money into skeleton.
Training for skeleton is very similar to the training that a track sprinter would do. We need to be fast and explosive on the start, so we do lots of sprints, plyometric exercises, balance exercises, and, of course, weightlifting. We'll do this type of training both in season and out of season, but during season, we also have our sliding sessions and races.
A typical sliding session is two hours long, and athletes typically arrive at the track an hour or more before to get their sleds set up and do a warm up. There's a start list we follow, that tells us what order we will be sliding in. The number of runs we get on a training day is dependent on how many athletes there are in the session. Sometimes there is barely enough time to get everyone two runs, whereas other days we've had the option of four runs. Most sliders won't take more than three runs in a day though, even if there's time for another. I often compare a day of skeleton sliding to waiting in line for a ride at Disney World. You sit around and wait for an hour or more, then you take your run which lasts close to a minute, then you sit around and wait again.
Each track in the world is different, but usually they're close to a mile long. The time it takes to complete the trip down, as well as the top speed reached, is all dependent on the design of the track, as well as the skill of the slider. In Lake Placid, low to mid 70 mph is a typical speed. In Park City, speeds are low 80's. Whistler is thought of as the fastest track, with speeds for skeleton reaching just shy of 90 mph. It's always a bit of an eye opener when I'm home, and I hop on the tollway and realize I go faster than that just a couple of inches off the ice, with no seatbelt and nothing but a helmet for protection. It's a rush! Like a roller coaster but much better!
Seth C: The ride sounds so incredibly awesome, I just can't even imagine going that fast (I don't like breaking 70 mph in my car). You mentioned when we first introduced each other that you were hoping to get in on the 2018 Winter Olympics. What's the next four years going to be like for you as you try to get ready for your opportunity to make the 2018 Winter Olympics? Also, since we're all going to be watching the Skeleton intently, thanks to your time, who should fans watch from the U.S. team in Sochi?
Caitlin Carter: I imagine the next four years will be a giant mix of fun, stress, excitement, pressure, and competition. To make the 2018 games, I'll have to continue to climb the ranks during the next "quad". First hurdle is to get invited to team trials again this coming October. To do that, I'll have to perform well on the yearly combine, win regionals in late February, and/or place extremely well at National Championships in early March. If I am invited to team trials, there will be four races that will rank us and determine what race circuit we'll be competing on that season. The lowest circuit is the North American Cup (NAC), then you advance to the Europa Cup (EC), the Intercontinental Cup (ICC), and finally World Cup (WC). To earn a spot on the US National Team, you must place high enough to race on the ICC or WC tours. This is currently the top 5 athletes for women, and the top 6 places for men.
Each year after next will be essentially the same. Make it into team trials, slide well, make a race circuit (with the obvious goal of making WC the year of the games and the year prior too), and then being among the lucky 2, possibly 3, women chosen to represent the United States. It'll be an interesting 4 years, as we have a very competitive field of women, and I honestly think anything is possible.
To better my chances of excelling in the next four years, I just bought a new sled. Well, it's new to me. It was used for half a season by another slider, so I was able to get a high quality sled for a marked down price. I'm going to go ahead and anticipate one of your next questions, which is what does a skeleton sled cost? A basic skeleton sled goes for about $3100, and that's not including a pair of runners (the metal bars that are in contact with the ice) which go for about $750 new. A high end sled (think the best of the best material and design) can go for around $10,000. I once heard a foreign slider had a sled that cost $12,000. So basically you can get a Ford Focus all the way up to a Ferrari. When you start out, most sliders buy a basic sled. Then as you progress in your skill level and want to start putting down faster times to be competitive with higher level sliders, you invest in one of those more expensive sleds.
In the off season, I'll be working as much as I can, plus doing my own personal workouts. My focus will be on working on my push technique, staying strong and explosive to pass the combine, and raising money and securing sponsors to help cover the costs of pursuing this crazy Olympic dream.
There are 5 skeleton athletes, 3 men and 2 women, representing the US in Sochi. The men's team consists of John Daly, Matt Antoine, and Kyle Tress. The women representing us are Noelle Pikus Pace and Katie Uhlaender. Each of them has worked so hard to make the Olympic team, and I'm really excited to watch them slide. I've trained with each these athletes in the weight room, had sliding sessions with them, and eaten meals with them in the Olympic Training Center cafeteria. It makes watching the Olympics this year that much more exciting and inspirational, and I feel like a part of the Olympic experience because I know several people who are competing. I'll probably be that silly person who gets all emotional and starts crying during the opening ceremonies when Team USA walks in because I have such a strong desire to be there myself one day. That probably sounds pretty corny, doesn't it? Haha!
Seth C: Much thanks for Caitlin for taking the time to talk to us about being a Red Raider and her Olympic Dreams! Again, if anyone has any questions for Caitlin, feel free to hit her up on Twitter, @_caitlincarter_, or her Facebook page or her personal blog, Challenge the Impossible.