Venue changed, but Olympic dream lives on

After Games nixed softball, Douglasville athlete took to sled

Elana Meyers, 25, of Douglasville, can run 60 meters in less than seven seconds. She can push around 400 pounds. Her athletic genes come from her father, Eddie Meyers, an Atlanta Falcons running back. A star in many sports, she picked softball as her ticket to the Olympics.

When that summer sport was cut from the Games, she set out to reinvent herself — physically, mentally, spiritually — in a winter sport she knew little about.

Meyers made the U.S. bobsled team and is competing Tuesday and Wednesday, the only Georgia athlete in Vancouver. She recently spoke about handling the twists and turns of remaking herself.

Q: How did you become so driven to make the Olympics?

A: I was born in California in 1984, the year of the Los Angeles Games. We have a photo taken a few months before I was born, of my older sister on the Golden Gate Bridge, wrapped in a 1984 Olympic sweater. My family always followed the movement. For those two weeks, we didn't do much else but watch.

As an African-American, I could see how the Olympic movement did so much to move our progress forward. Jesse Owens in 1936. Black pride in Mexico City in 1968. Then in Atlanta in 1996, with so many women in the Games. I could see how it shaped politics and the world.

I just always thought it would be basketball, softball or track that would get me there.

Q: You were a college senior, on a scholarship, when you found out softball was out of the Olympics. How did you react?

A: I was devastated. I remember hearing the news and crying. I thought my Olympic dream was over. I had poured much of my life into reaching the Olympics through softball and now that was a slim chance.

Q: How did you regroup?

A: I didn't want to stop playing. After I graduated in 2006, I played pro softball in the summer of 2007, but knew I could not make a career of that. I thought about med school. I did not know what the future was.

Then my parents said something about bobsled. I decided to try it.

Q: Is picking up a new sport fairly easy for you?

A: I adapt to most sports pretty easily, but to become great takes me a little longer than average. I require a great amount of repetition, and I really have to work very hard to progress in a sport.

In bobsled, I had the raw athleticism, but I still struggle with my technique. I lose so much time because I don’t have the greatest technique, but I’m able to push well because of my athleticism.

Q: What challenges did you face as you remade yourself to follow your dream?

A: I used to bundle up if it was 32 degrees and think it was freezing. Now, there've been so many times I've thought, "What am I doing here? It's minus-19 degrees and I'm pushing a bobsled, wearing basically a bathing suit with sleeves!"

In softball I had done a lot of upper body lifts, to hit home runs. In bobsled there are [heavier] Olympic lifts to build strength to push a 180-kilo [400-pound] sled as fast as you can for five seconds. In softball you run around bases, but in bobsled there is more running and more running.

In softball I only had cleats and a bat. But in bobsled, I had to become a mini-mechanic because my job is to take care of the sled. I learned how to put on blades, called runners. It takes about four hours of prep for two one-minute heats.

My body hated me a lot these past three years, but I loved it. I know I haven’t reached my physical peak. God willing, there will be another two or three Olympics for me.

Q: Bobsled is known as one of the most political Olympic sports. The pushers like you, who sit in back of the sled, are picked by the drivers, who sit in front. Sometimes the criteria isn’t clear. How did you deal?

A: You are judged every time you're on the ice. A 100th of a second determines who is on the Olympic team. That's the length of a pencil eraser. I tried to stay true to myself and do right, and believe that good things will happen.

Q: Who were your closest supporters through this change?

A: Definitely my parents, Eddie and Jan, and my sisters Erica and Elise. They always said if you want anything bad enough, it's worth fighting for.

Q: Did luck play a part in your journey?

A: I don't consider myself particularly lucky. I don't win the lottery. I don't guess how many marbles are in the jar. I'm pretty clumsy. Anything random has probably happened to me. Timing and faith have helped me. I believe God has a plan — and I've worked hard to get to this point.

Q: Did you always have that sense of purpose?

A: I developed that in college. I used to be a very private person. I believed I could do everything myself.

I signed a letter of intent [contract for a college softball scholarship] and went to college a month later. I went through a lot of homesickness. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I found a Christian-based group that really helped me.

I had to learn to ask for help in small things, like getting a tutor. It was a gradual process to learn that I didn’t know everything and wasn’t totally independent.

Q: As you mastered a new sport, how did your self-image change?

A: I thought if I made the Olympics, I would be a great person. But doing a sport that I had never done took a different strength. I had to ask others for help, like in training and nutrition.

People don’t really realize that anyone who makes the Olympics requires so much sacrifice from friends and family. I missed so many weddings and childbirths.

It does take a village to reach some kind of dream, and you have to allow that village to help you.

Q: What advice do you have regarding reinventing a life?

A: Bad things happen your whole life. All you can do is control what you can control and believe in yourself. Trust in whatever god you believe in. You have to rely on other people and allow yourself to be helped.

If you have an idea for The Reinvented Life, contact Michelle Hiskey at michelle.hiskey @gmail.com.