From softball standout at George Washington to U.S. Olympic bobsledder, Elana Meyers makes the most of a change in course

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; D01

There was a time, when Elana Meyers was playing shortstop for George Washington University's softball team, that she would watch the women representing the United States in her sport, playing in the Olympic Games, and consider it a possibility for the future. The progression seemed natural. She left the Colonials after 2007 as a two-time Atlantic 10 co-student athlete of the year, and she would try to become an Olympian on the diamond herself, playing the sport she had practiced for a lifetime.

Somehow -- and there are some good reasons why, though they take some explaining -- Meyers's Olympic dream took a swift detour. Softball is no more. Rather, she will arrive next week in the mountain town of Whistler, B.C., to push a 300-pound sled down an icy chute and then hop aboard for the 80-mph ride in hopes of a medal -- in bobsledding, a sport she picked up precisely two years before she was named to the U.S. team.

"I still have those moments," Meyers said. "There's times when I'll be out in the middle of the track, standing in the curve, and I'll just laugh. 'What the heck am I doing right now? I'm sliding down the hill at crazy speeds and standing in freezing cold weather.' "

How can this happen?

"I have no idea," said Eddie Meyers, her father.

What's important is that Meyers's lifetime goal, according to her father, was to be an Olympian. Softball seemed to be the natural choice, because during her junior and senior seasons at GW, she hit .414 and .413, respectively. But two things happened: Meyers had tryouts with the junior national and national softball teams that, she said, "didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked," and a summer of playing professionally didn't increase her chances. Second, softball was dropped from the Olympic program for 2012. There seemed to be no dream left to pursue.

"But I heard about this camp in two weeks," she said.

That would be a camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. For bobsledding. For a kid from Douglasville, Ga.

She called her parents.

"I got a letter from the USOC!" her father remembers her saying. Eddie Meyers was a co-captain on the Navy football team in 1982, a running back who likely would have contributed to the Atlanta Falcons -- with whom he spent six summers in training camps and workouts -- if he didn't have to also fulfill his service obligations, which included a stint as a Marine in the Gulf War. He understands athletic dreams, and had talked to each of his three daughters about them.

"My point to her has always been that, 'You're an athlete; you're always going to be an athlete,' " Eddie Meyers said. "We've talked about this all along. Athletes always find something to do. It doesn't matter what it is, you're going to want to compete."

Here, then, was the opportunity. Eddie and Jan Meyers told their middle daughter to go for it.

"It's $1,400," Elana Meyers said.

"I was like, 'Oh,' " Eddie Meyers said. " 'Uh, well . . .' "

But they figured this: It was a once-in-a-lifetime shot. So Elana went. By the third day of sprinting and weight lifting and tests and exercises she had never performed before, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation said it would pick up the rest of Meyers's expenses. She was invited back for team trials in October. Her bobsledding experience, to that point: Watching the 2002 Olympics from Salt Lake City on television, and seeing a southern woman -- Alabama's Vonetta Flowers -- become the first black athlete to win gold at the Winter Games. She did it by pushing a bobsled.

"We knew it was strong and powerful athletes," Elana Meyers said. "Those were my strengths in softball. I was pretty powerful. I thought it might carry over."

There were a few things to figure out, though, not the least of which was the proper gear. Athletes who grow up in Georgia and play collegiately in the District don't necessarily need long underwear that serves as a second skin, or ski pants, or parkas, or any of that. So Meyers invested in a new wardrobe.

Then there was the whole matter of the sledding portion of the program.

"People talk it up more than you would think, how scary it's going to be," Meyers said. "You're pretty terrified before you start. . . . The thing they don't warn you about is, like my first time down the track, we hit a wall. I thought I was going to fly out."

She hung on. By the end of the trials process, she was named to the U.S. national team. She had never been to Europe, yet suddenly she was traveling there as an athlete, pushing a sled for various drivers. The softball Olympic dream was over, replaced by bobsledding.

"She's very intelligent, so she picks up things very quickly," Eddie Meyers said. "She's a student of the game, whatever game she's in."

In 2008, with driver Shauna Rohbock, she won one World Cup medal, a bronze. A gold in a race in Whistler -- the Olympic venue -- followed. In the 2009 world championships, she and Rohbock won silver.

Now, she is paired with driver Erin Pac. And in mid-January, a month from the start of the Vancouver Games, the team was selected. Pac and Meyers will make up the second of three American two-woman sleds.

"I was so excited and so proud to be representing my country," she said. "To be working for something your whole life, it's kind of overwhelming. I don't think it's truly set in what this actually means."

Immediately, she called her parents. Jan picked up. Eddie raced upstairs to grab the other phone.

"Well," she said, "I'm walking around as an Olympian."

"Would I have loved to have done this?" Eddie Meyers said. "Heck yeah. Did I think in my wildest dreams that I'd have a child go to the Olympics? No. That happens to other people."

It is happening to the Meyers family right now. Not exactly as planned, but happening all the same.

"It's crazy," Elana Meyers said. "Everybody in this sport will admit that they're a little bit crazy. I think you have to be. But it's worked out, and I love it."

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