Kendrick Carter, a sophomore from Warrington, PA, is a US Youth Olympian for Skeleton. Not sure what that means? Read the fascinating interview below about the sport, how he got involved, and where he competes!
1. When, why and how did you start ... is it skeletoning??
(It’s just “skeleton,” but don’t feel bad…we often debate the grammar of it!)
August 2014 was my first youth camp and combine test, but I actually didn’t get on the ice until November of 2014.
I started sliding because at first, my mom talked to me about some Paralympic athletes she had met just before the 2014 Winter Olympics. She was so impressed by these athletes that she gushed with their stories of tragedy that turned to triumph. I guess the main idea that she was telling me was to pursue my dreams because anything is possible. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I guess that just planted a seed.
After my mom told me about how some athletes have lost arms, legs, sight, or event the ability to walk (and that they were meanwhile winning medals), I began to think, “Why not me?” But at the time of our conversation, I had no sport in mind because I played football, which is not an Olympic sport.
Then a few weeks later, when the 2014 Winter Olympics were happening, we turned on the TV just in time to catch the skeleton races. As soon as I saw it, I knew that was my sport! The speed had me from the first moment I saw it. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie – and to me, that looked like the ultimate sledding a person could do – and I wanted in!
While we were actually watching the competition, my mom pulled out her laptop and started plucking away at the keys. I was ignoring her, until about 15 minutes later when she said to me, “Okay, I signed you up online.” I thought, “What is she talking about?” But to my surprise, she signed me up as a youth member. For her part, she just thought I was going to get a magazine and t-shirt, go to a summer camp, and maybe a winter camp—and that would be it. I guess neither of us realized at the time that that was a life changing moment.
2. What's your favorite thing about this sport?
The peacefulness when I’m sliding. You may think it’s crazy nerve-wracking on the sled, but what happens is sort of like tunnel vision—in a good way. You’re going so fast and have to make split second decisions - so it’s like everything slows down - and it’s just you, the track, and your sled. For one minute in time, there’s not a single worry or concern in the world...just pure focus and peace.
3. What are opportunities do you get that others might not get?
Participating in the type of sport where there are so few tracks to do this on, I get to compete at an international level, travel the world, and make friends from every corner of the globe. If I were still playing football, I wouldn’t have these types of opportunities. Don’t get me wrong; playing football has its own advantages such as bonding with classmates and having friends close to home. So it’s a trade off, but it’s a tradeoff I enjoy.
I also get to work with older athletes who are the absolute best in the world. I feel fortunate in some ways that the whole team, every one of us, has time at both the beginning and end of the season to work together. At first, I may have been a bit star-struck seeing Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress (the 2014 Olympians) in the cafeteria at the Olympic Training Center, but by the time I was catching a ride to the track for practice with Katie Uhlander, I was already seeing how we are all athletes dedicated to getting better with each day in the gym or on the track. They’re all just regular people like you and me. The biggest difference right now is our ages.
By the time this gets to print, I will have been to the 2016 Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. While this is an Olympic event in every way, the IOC has taken extra steps to ensure that in the Youth games, every athlete must attend from beginning to end. They’ve laid out activities and even a curriculum that I will get to be a part of. We will learn about food, fitness, how to plan a professional athletic career, and much, much more. I’m really looking forward to meeting more new international friends from other sports, and participating in these organized classes and events. While every athlete dreams of winning a medal, I feel like I’ve already won, by just being able to participate in these programs and represent my country!
4. What kind of relationship do you have with your teammates?
With the youth, we’re close mostly because we live together when we travel. Living in close quarters presents some challenges, but we face them together and have become like family.
With the adult athletes, it’s a bit different. Some are closer in age (21, 22 years old), and I find that we can bond pretty well. Other athletes are in their late 20’s and even early 30’s, so it’s a bit more difficult to strike up conversation with them. We’re just in a different place in our lives and athletic careers. The thing is, these older athletes have been around a while and they have so much knowledge to share about equipment, training, travel tips, etc. I try to find common ground so I can learn from them, but it’s not always easy.
5. How did you find your coach? What is he/she like?
Well, first I had to go to a combine test and youth camp. It’s there that I met him. His name is Don Hass and he is both the track manager at Lake Placid, as well as the developmental coach. Aside from running the track for events like World Cup races, his main job is to find, recruit, and develop athletes to go to the next level. Don’s coaching style is unlike any I’ve experienced thus far. He’s been in the sport for quite a while, and was even a bobsled athlete. He has some great stories: One story was from the 1994 Lillehammer games, when they took a bobsled from on top a gas station that was a hollowed out prop and put it together to be used for one of the nations teams (a true hack job!); or another story about a movie segment filmed on the track where he slid as Demi Moore’s stunt double. Yep, coach has lots of stories!
6. What kind of support do you have, as we're sure it's financially challenging?
So far, my family has been my biggest support, but let’s not forget teachers, my school, and my friends here at home. Everyone at some level has made concessions or sacrifices on my behalf either because I can’t be present somewhere helping or doing something - or because they have to give of their time to get me to where I need to be. Make no mistake, this may be a solo sport, but I have a huge team of helpers and without them, I could not do this.
As for finances, yes, this is a pricey sport. The sled I purchased this year is an entry-level model and it cost close to $5,000. It’ll be okay for a bit, but even so, with a sled, runners, speed suit, spikes, helmet, coaching, entry fees and travel, even on a budget, this season will cost $15,000. And for USA athletes, it’s not even a “full” season.
For instance, while I’m home training in January for the February Youth Olympics, other youth are in Europe competing in a variety of contests including the Junior World Championships. So, while $15,000 seems like a lot, it’s a bargain compared to some. Of course if money were no object, I’d be in Europe right now sliding. Such as it is, my mom and step-dad, Bill, have been helping me with fundraising. Surprisingly, athletes don’t get monies from the USOC, our federation, USABS, or any other governing body. We’re on our own. Even the top adult athletes! We’ve been working hard trying to develop a base of donors, and I’d love to find an annual spokesperson sponsorship.
On the positive side of that, though, I feel as though I’m learning another valuable life skill by having to find my own resources. How to speak in public, how to ask people to donate – either written or in person – even just thinking about who might like to donate, are all things I have to work through, and these skills will help me quite a bit as I get older.
7. What is the scariest thing about it?
Nothing’s really scary for me, that’s not a word I would use. But challenging, yes. For me, I find managing homework and my travel schedule is the hardest thing. And maybe that’s scary because I want to - and need to - keep up my grades for college.
8. What is the best thing about it?
Easily the best thing is being able to travel the world! I get to see and learn new things all the time. For instance, in December, we went to a small town just outside of Innsbruck called Igls (Pronounced, “eagles”) in Austria. While we were there, they had a huge Krampus festival, one that’s been going on there for hundreds of years. We thought that was great since the movie “Krampus” was just being released here in the states. At night, people would dress up as Krampus (Or is that Krampi?) and swat people fairly harmlessly with branches. They would also chase people, so we had a blast playing a version of manhunt with Krampus. How cool is that?!
9. What is your school schedule like with you being away?
Again, this one is tough. Last year, I attended Lenape Middle School. My teachers worked hard to help me out and I did my work mostly between trips while I was home. This season, I had to travel much more, so I decided to go to start online schooling. Even though I can take my work with me, it’s still challenging to find the time and good Internet connection so that I can get things done. I find that when I have time, I have to double up and do very long days of school work so I can have long stretches of training, travelling and competing without having to worry about my studies.
10. Do you have any online videos to share with us? If so, we'd love to share links!
https://youtu.be/fPuOBJTG81Y This one is a professional one that YOG put together and I ended up in it!
These are some my mom popped into her YouTube account. She has others not uploaded, these are just “okay”, all training.
11. What advice would you give to some interested in starting in this sport?
First, train hard at home. Speed. Get a sprint coach! I started working with one this year and wish I would have started even earlier. If you’re in sports, any sport, you’re never too young to get a good sprint coach. I work with Felix Moreno, who is the head track coach at Del Val. Before working with him, I would have never guessed how much there was to learn about sprinting. I would just run, but that does not cut it. Technique matters so much!
Second, get your family and/or community on board! Without their support, it will be very difficult.
And third, believe in yourself! My mom has told me over and again that I can be/do whatever I want...I just have to have the heart and the desire. Two short years ago, I never would have guessed that I would be representing the USA at the Youth Olympic Games! If I can do this, imagine what you could do.
12. What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I don’t really have one as it pertains to skeleton. My focus is on getting through the Youth Olympic Games, seeing where I stand, and re-evaluate then. Skeleton training is year-round, but the competition season runs from October through March, the heart of the school year. There may be ways to do both, but then again, because I want to study automotive engineering in college, there may not be. I will figure that out as I go along.
The first time I went to the Olympic Training Center for the Youth combine and summer camp was pretty awesome. It was cool to see other kids my age in the sport and hang out with them, and the cafeteria there is awesome! I get to eat all I want there. My first time on the push track was pretty cool too. We train on that to get our push times faster, and I really wish I had one around here to use so I wouldn’t have to drive so far for training.