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Balance: Walking the tight-rope of life and athletics

BY Nick Cunningham



Whether it's a job, relationship, or sport, everything we do needs balance. This is also the case for World Cup and Olympic athletes. While most of our time is consumed with training, physical therapy, eating and dieting, drug tests and sponsorship obligations, everyone does something a little differently to clear their minds and focus on something else for a change. Balance is not to be confused with distraction. We all still have the main goal (Olympics) at the top of the list. If all we do is eat, breathe and sleep working out and the training, we will get burnt out incredibly fast. 

Being completely consumed in one thing is not a healthy lifestyle and will start to wear on other priorities and relationships. Representing my country is my main goal in life and I will put most of my effort into that; however, I will not shut out my friends and family to achieve that goal. They have all supported me and will be by my side on this journey. I surround myself with positive distractions that do not take me away from my main goal, but help clear my mind and keep me grounded.  It's been said that athletics are 90% mental and 10% physical, and having balance allows my mind to take a break and regroup.  

There are many ways that I pass the time during my off season. For the past few years, I have worked as a horseback trail guide in Lake Placid, N.Y. This was an amazing opportunity for me in that it got me out of the training center, into the fresh air, and interacting with so many wonderful people day in and day out that. Throughout the summer months I can also be found at one of the many rodeos in upstate New York.  

The time away from the squat rack and push track really charges my batteries and allows me to train harder and keep that motivation in the following days training. Playing darts with my teammates at a local pub is also a way we get away from it all but still keep that competitive edge. Some athletes play video games, listen to music, go out on the lake, take online courses, play golf... all to pass their time and put their mind on something else for awhile. I, along with my teammates, all know that being the best athlete possible is the main objective, but we also understand that we need to have those relationships and outside stimulation to stay motivated and keep the drive alive.  


Nick Cunningham serves the country as both an athlete and a Soldier as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.  Cunningham began bobsled in 2008 and was immediately selected as an alternate for World Cup team. Just two years later, Cunningham made his first Olympic team as a brakeman for Mike Kohn before making the transition to a driver.  Outside of bobsled, Cunningham loves the country lifestyle and was introduced to the rodeo while attending Boise State University.  He met some people that raise bucking bulls in Kuna, Idaho, and climbed on his first bull in 2006.  Cunningham said "it's not a lifestyle I grew up with, rather the lifestyle that I chose."  Follow @Bobsledr on Twitter to learn more about this bobsledding cowboy.


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           May 29,2013





National Guardsman, Nick Cunningham                                                         Photo by John Gilligan          

We had chance to catch up with National Guardsman Nick Cunningham  He is on Team U.S.A. serves in the National Guard and  is one of three World Cup men’s bobsled drivers on Team U.S.A. and is a medal hope in four-man. Nick is from California and found his way to bobsled, of course. From Nick’s site: Nick Cunningham began bobsled in 2008 and was immediately selected as an alternate for World Cup team.  In addition, Cunningham helped push driver Mike Kohn to two gold medals on the America’s Cup tour and a silver and a bronze medal at the 2009 National Championships.  During 2009 World Championships, Cunningham helped push driver John Napier to an 11th place finish

OLYMPIC HIGHLIGHTS

2010 Olympic Winter Games

  1. Placed 12th in the two-man event with a time of 3:29.78  Team Kohn/Cunningham

  2. Placed 13th in the four man event with a time of 3:2.98 Team Kohn/ Moriarty/ Schuffenhauer/ Cunningham

 

AG: Thanks for the time. You winter sport folks are killing me. Is anyone from Alaska or friends with Santa. You’re from Monterey California and your Rodeo? How did you find your way to the Bobsled?

Nick: I never rode in a rodeo, rather just jumped on some bulls while I was in college. Loved every second of it and the country lifestyle will always be a part of my life. I actually came to find out about bobsled through a family joke. I grew up surfing and had only been to the snow once while in the 7th grade. I was a freshman in college at UC Santa Barbara on a track scholarship. My parents came to a track meet and after we went for a drive into the mountains above Santa Barbara. On the way back to campus, as we were headed down the mountain my mom casually said that the winding road down looked like a bobsled track. My Dad then said that sprinters make the best bobsledders. I went back to my dorm and they drove back to Monterey. That night they sent me a bunch of USA Bobsled information and how to try out for the team. I wanted to make sure that I graduated school first. Whenever I would have a bad meet or a bad training week I would always just tell myself “well there is always bobsled.” I eventually took a scholarship to be a 100M and 200M sprinter at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I loved every second of it and it really made me grow as an athlete and a person. Once I graduated I was left with a life decision. Do I try and continue running, get a job or go outside my comfort zone and take my chances on flying to Lake Placid, NY and try out for the US Bobsled Team. Two months later I was on a flight to the northeast and trying out. 18 months later I was marching into the Opening Ceremonies in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. Needless to say it’s interesting how a small joke can alter one’s life so much.

                                 
      Making it look easy!

                                                          


Old school Nick





AG: At lease tell me that Superman’s fortress of Solitude would be a cool place to visit.

Nick: I think it would be. If you want to see the only thing that compares to it you will need to travel to St. Moritz, Switzerland. One of the most beautiful locations I have ever been too.

AG: You wear a bunch of hats tells us about your day job and the Guard?

Nick: My job in the New York National Guard is 12W, Construction and Masonry Engineer in Kingston, NY. I am currently in a special program for the US Army called the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) out of Ft. Carson, CO. It allows me to not only compete for Team USA but also defend this country. I never thought anything would ever make me feel as proud to be an American as I was wearing the Team USA uniform at the Olympics, but every time I put on my US Army uniform I feel that same sense of pride and honor knowing that I’m doing this for my country.

                                            
           Nick and the sled

AG: How do you balance your work, life demands with being a world class athlete?

Nick: I like to stay balanced by spending most of my off season with my close friends and family when I’m not training. I have an amazing support system in place when I visit California and can always count on one of my friends to step up and hit the weight room with me. Most of the time I live in the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY where my only job is to sprint, lift and get better as a bobsled pilot.

AG: What about diet when you’re with National Guard? Do you have flexibility in what you can eat?

Nick:  Since I live in the Lake Placid OTC I have full access to their dining room. We have access to a salad bar and fresh fruit all day long and serve a variety of warm meals throughout the day.

 

AG: Tell us about the offseason? Are you training?

Nick:  After World Championships in Feb, I will usually take a couple months off from heavy lifting and let my body heal from the past 10 months of training. I will stay active in the off months by working on a ranch locally in Lake Placid, go to the lake with friends or if I am able to travel back to California, I will try and surf and spend time on the beach.

AG: What about your training leading up to Sochi?

 Nick: I approach training for the Olympics like I would during any year. I’m going to do what has worked for me and not deviate from the program put in place for me. I have set my goals and training hard every day to reach them.

AG: Are you the go to guy to help your friends move?

Nick: Of course. I would do anything I could to help my close friends.

     Do not try this at home

AG: What do you love most about the bobsled?

Nick: I’ve always wanted to be a race car driver. This was the next best thing. I love the speed and precision of driving a sled. I need to have everything dialed in and hit all of my marks to win a race.

AG: What should novice viewers look for?

 Nick: Novice viewers should watch the start. Watching 4 guys all weighing around 225lbs loading into a sled at running at full speed is a recipe for chaos and disaster. It takes pure athleticism.

AG: Is it a tightknit international circuit? Do you guys have an arch enemy or team like in Talladega Nights you know Jean Girard?

Nick: Believe it or not, we are pretty good friends with most of the guys from other countries. We are with each other day in and day out for months at a time, so it’s better to keep it civil between the teams. On race day however, there are no friends and all we want to do is win.

AG: With speed and risk in your sport how do you train your mind? (meditation breathing etc)

Nick: I train my mind by just doing my “homework” before I get on the track. I have track notes that I study every day and I watch other sleds go through the curves so I can see the driving lines of other pilots. One thing that’s unique in our sport is that my brakemen are helpless and rely on me doing my job and homework to keep them safe.

     The official shot

AG: What will you be watching in Sochi?

Nick: I would love to watch a Hockey game or some Short-Track Speed skating. Men’s Bobsled events last for almost the entire length of the Olympic Games. We are training everyday so seeing other events is very tough to do.

AG: Sincerely thank you for your service and thank you for your time! You’re making us look lazy! Nick: Thank you for taking an interest in me and the sport of Bobsled! Make sure to keep your eyes open for Team Cunningham!

 


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The Cowboy     Feb 7, 2013 11:46 PM ET | By Sarah Spain


The main image on the home page of U.S. bobsledder Nick Cunningham's website looks like the cover of a country album or an ad for a local rodeo. Cunningham, who recently made the switch from the back of the sled to the driver's seat, stands a few steps in front of his push squad, clad in a plaid shirt and a black cowboy hat, thumbs hooked into the belt loops of his jeans.

He was never a professional cowboy, but he did dabble in the rodeo in college. The toughness he acquired from getting thrown off bulls prepared him to be shaken, but not broken, when he races down an icy course at 90 mph. A standout track athlete at Boise State, Cunningham realized he didn't have what it took to go pro as a sprinter, so he tried bobsled.

"Once I graduated from college, it was kind of like a reward to myself, to kind of go outside the box and do something new," Cunningham said. "What guy from Monterey, Calif., says he got to try out for the bobsled team?"

The 27-year-old didn't just try out, he excelled. He was selected as an alternate for the World Cup team the same year he started, and just two years later, he was competing for the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

After helping push his Vancouver teams to 12th in the two-man event and 13th in the four-man event, Cunningham decided to make the switch from brakeman to driver.

"It's kind of a natural progression," he said last week from a hotel room in Switzerland, where he was preparing for the World Championships. "Brakes was a lot of fun, but it was kind of time to accept the responsibility and move up front. You have a longer shelf life as a pilot, you can be in the sport longer, and it's a little bit less abusive on your body."

But the move to the front of the sled can be quite difficult.

"It's really hard to go from the back to the front," Cunningham said. "You really do go to the very bottom of the USA totem pole. You have to work yourself all the way back up to that level that you were at."

Cunningham has moved up the ranks and now pilots the No. 2 sled for the U.S. As the man in front, he's not only the team's driver, but he's also their mechanic, travel agent and finance man.

"You pretty much own your own race team -- all the equipment too," Cunningham said of becoming a driver. "Some teams have to buy their own sleds, but luckily Team USA will supply me with a sled. All the tools are mine. The runners are mine -- and runners will cost up to $5,000-plus a set.

"It's definitely a money game. It's tough unless you have people supporting you and backing you, since it's all out of the pilot's pocket -- all the travel, all the hotels, rental cars, fuel."

Shortly after the 2010 Games, Cunningham decideded he needed some help if he wanted to continue competing. His pilot in the last Olympics, Mike Kohn, informed him about the U.S. Army World Class Athletes Program. Cunningham joined the Army in 2011 and is now a sergeant, stationed out of Lake Placid, N.Y.

"There are soldiers on all three U.S. sleds right now," Cunningham said. "In the offseason we're soldiers. We go to drill. We do military work and stuff. But during the season, they give us some financial backing and allow us to focus on our training."

The WCAP program is a huge help to Cunningham, but he still needs financial assistance from his family, friends and sponsors. He is committed to the Army for another four years and plans to continue bobsledding through the 2018 Games in South Korea.

For now, the focus is on the Sochi Games next February. Last week at the World Championships, Cunningham finished 13th in the two-man and 19th in the four-man. Barring any major injuries, his team is a virtual lock to make the Olympic team, so until then he will be devoted to getting stronger, faster and better.

"Right around March or April I'll take about a month and a half to two months off," Cunningham said. "I'll start training again in May and get after it pretty hard until we get on the ice in October. I'll be focusing a lot on strength and speed. Hitting these tracks and focusing on winning and staying that No. 2 sled."

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National Guard Soldier-athletes help with

Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

Hurricane Sandy Recovery

National Guard Soldier-athletes Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson write about their experience helping with recovery efforts

SGT Dallas Robinson:

Nick is attached to the New York National Guard 1156 engineering company in Kingston with luge athlete Joe Mortensen, and I am attached to the Kentucky National Guard. None of the three of us were actually mobilized after Hurricane Sandy hit because we are in the World Class Athlete Program, and our job this time of year is to be ready for our upcoming season. However, once I heard Nick and Joe were going to voluntarily drive six hours to the city to help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, I immediately put on my uniform and hopped in my truck to follow. I caught up with them a couple of hours later at their unit in Kingston. Regardless of our training, we are Soldiers first and always eager to jump at any opportunity to serve our country. We are honored to be Soldiers, and we know that the small sacrifice we made pales in comparison to the true heroes who are serving overseas protecting our country.


SGT Cunningham and SGT Robinson visit the FDNY


We knew there were hard hit areas, but most of the city was in pretty good shape due to the swift cleanup efforts of New York City workers. Even though the subways weren't working, trees had fallen and power was out, the people of New York City didn't seem to have an ounce of fear in them...they just kept moving on like any other day. I think it's amazing how hardworking city workers like the NYPD and FDNY are. There was not a corner in the city where we did not see a police officer guiding traffic or helping someone. I'm certain many of them haven't slept in days, and for that reason I already feel guilty being back at the Olympic Training Center writing this. It's also amazing how resilient the citizens of New York City are; they cannot be shaken.


SGT Nick Cunningham:

Wow, that was an experience I'll never forget. SGT Robinson and I wanted to do as much as possible and help as many people as we could in the short amount of time that we had. We first stopped by Tom Santagato's house in Astoria, N.Y. Tom is competing in the skeleton selection races in Park City, Utah and had no way to get home, so we wanted to put him at ease knowing that his family was safe. We then moved into the heart of the damage.

SGT Robinson:

SGT Cunningham and I got a tip and headed to an area that was hard hit and in need of aid. As we drove into
this region the traffic slowed on each side of the road. There wasn't a traffic jam, but there literally weren't any civilian vehicles in working order!


Eventually the majority of the vehicles actually moving were painted in some type of camouflage or had l ights attached to the roof of them. As we traveled further into the area we were driving alongside a FEMA convoy, but eventually even the lights and FEMA trucks were no where to be found. Upon entering the devastated area we quickly noticed it was completely different than the rest of the city we had already been to. Trees had fallen and the power lines were lying all over the place leaving residents in the cold and dark, but the overall devastation was far worse than we had ever seen. Cars were strategically placed in yards and smashed into road medians from the outgoing tide. We saw 40-foot boats lifted vertically and resting against buildings, and large 100-year oak trees swimming along as driftwood.

We drove for a while weaving in and out of obstacles until the road stopped. The road was blocked entirely and the only way out was the way that we came. We had not come all the way from Lake Placid to not jump in and do what we could. So Nick and I parked our truck, stepped out into shin-deep water and put on our work gloves.

SGT Cunningham:

We parked our truck at the end of the street and just started helping everyone we could. By the time we arrived the floodwater had receded and residents were returning to their homes to see the absolute destruction. Once SGT Robinson and myself cleared the block of houses and made sure everyone was safe and in no immediate need or danger we just began helping by clearing debris, moving ruined furniture and just listening to everyone's stories. Many of these families had just finished their renovations from Hurricane Irene a year ago.

SGT Robinson:

Every single person we spoke to was unified with a sad but thankful heart. They said they were so appreciative of "what they still had" and were just anxious to "fix it and move on." Many said, "Help my neighbor first"- in a sharp New York accent of course. One old man said "Ehh, I'm fine- I'm 71 years young and don't need anything. Maybe my neighbors do though, go check on them. Unless you want for me to make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich". He said it in a joking way, but I know with the bread and peanut butter next to him on the porch he would have made us one heck of a sandwich if we had taken him up on it.

I was greeted by an elderly couple at the next house, and as we walked through the door the lady just put her hands over her face and started crying. I could tell she had been holding in her tears for some time prior to that. I couldn't do or say anything at that moment, so I just hugged her and she hugged me. In about 30 seconds she was ready to start telling us her story and where the water came to and also which items of heavy water logged furniture needed to be taken to the curb.

SGT Cunningham:

Clearing homes and watching the residents open drawers and find ruined priceless possessions was absolutely devastating to watch. Some just cried while others wanted to clear out as much as possible before their family returned home to see the destruction. Several times I was just taken back by everyone's attitude. Nobody was mad, pointing a finger or looking to place blame. Everyone was helping everyone. Neighbors were helping each other; strangers were helping move ruined cars from the roads. I have never been more proud to be American.

SGT Robinson:

We only spent about two days in the city and visited a couple dozen homes. We didn't get to jump into the ocean and lift someone crying for help to safety and never found a cat in a tree to save, but we did get to come into contact with and help some amazing people. When we started our journey on Tuesday to New York City we were anxious to make a difference. As we traveled back this Thursday we felt somehow older, and the five-hour trip seemed to take twice that time. I know I speak for both Nick and myself when I say we have heavy hearts for the families in the devastated areas and we wish we could head back tomorrow to help further. I think Nick and I have a new perspective on life and are so much more appreciative of what we have. Please keep the people of New York City in your prayers.

SGT Cunningham:

In the past 48 hours we focused on what was important. It wasn't about bench press, squats, or power cleans. It wasn't about the Olympics, looking for funding or trying to find that fast line. It was all about giving these people their lives back. To give a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. It definitely put everything into perspective and really made me realize what is truly important to me.

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About the Sled

Minimum Weight

Sled including the runners and without the crew:

2-man bobsled: 170 Kg    (374 lbs)
4-man bobsled: 210 Kg    (462 lbs)

Maximum Weight:

Sled including the crew, the runners and the other equipment:

Men’s 2-man bobsled: 390 Kg  (858 lbs)

Men’s 4-man bobsled: 630 Kg  (1386 lbs)

Nick’s FIBT Ranking

January 26, 2014


2 Man Bobsled          6th


4 Man Bobsled         13th


Combined 2/4 Man  11th

Nick’s World Cup Ranking

January 26, 2014


  2 Man Bobsled              6th        


  4 Man Bobsled            15th


  Combined 2/4 Man     11th

Countdown to 2018 PyeongChang

OFFICIAL USA BOBSLED SITE

UPCOMING EVENTS


December 11-13

World Cup Race 1

Lake Placid, NY


December 19-21

World Cup Race 2

Calgary, Canada




       


               

 

LISTEN TO NICK’S INTERVIEW

Follow Nick on Twitter:

BOBSLEDR

        Cunningham wins first bobsled selection races


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (Oct. 25, 2014)- Elana Meyers Taylor (Douglasville, Ga.) and Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) won the first bobsled selection races of the season today.With one of three men’s spots locked up by Olympic medalist Steven Holcomb (Park City, Utah), Cunningham made a bid for his position on the team by winning the men’s competition by 0.27 seconds with South Carolina firefighter Casey Wickline (Greenville, S.C.).

The biggest story of the day was junior pilot Codie Bascue (Whitehall, N.Y.), who teamed with David Cremin (Annandale, Va.) for the fastest finish time of the competition. Bascue and Cremin burst off the blocks in 5.22 seconds, and Bascue threaded his sled down the course in 56.29 seconds to steal the lead. The 20-year-old fell off the pace by 0.40 seconds in the second run to finish third with a combined time of 1:53.54.

“Holcomb is as good as ever and Codie is really stepping up to show how good he really is,” Cunningham said. “With this new class of brakeman, Codie is no longer seen as the young pilot. He is a veteran and has proved he is one the best in the USA.”


Men’s Bobsled
1. Nick Cunningham and Casey Wickline 1:53.14 (56.30, 56.84); 2. Steven Holcomb and Aaron Victorian 1:53.41 (56.39, 57.02); 3. Codie Bascue and David Cremin 1:53.54 (56.29, 57.25); 4. John Napier and Adam Clark 1:54.79 (56.85, 57.94); 5. Colin Coughlin and Chris Enslen 1:55.09 (57.38, 57.71); 6. Jake Peterson and Adam Fenton 1:55.74 (57.47, 58.27); 7. Bryan Berghorn and Dustin Greenwood 1:56.64 (57.90, 58.74); 8. Geoff Gadbois and Adrian Adams 1:57.47 (58.33, 59.14); 9. Shane Hook and Dustin Cain 1:58.73 (58.62, 1:00.11

Thank you P & G and your ThanksMom program

Cunningham places 2nd in the 2nd 2Man Trials


Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) won the trials opener in Lake Placid, N.Y., and he teamed with Sam Michener(Gresham, Ore.) for second place today. The duo posted impressive push times of 4.96 seconds in both heats, and Cunningham piloted the crew to the finish in 48.93 and 49.32 seconds for a total of 1:38.25. Cunningham held the fastest time down the course in the second heat until the very final split, where Holcomb overtook him by 0.02 seconds.


Men’s Bobsled
1. Steven Holcomb and Alex Harrison 1:37.95 (48.65, 49.30); 2. Nick Cunningham and Sam Michener 1:38.25 (48.93, 49.32); 3. Codie Bascue and David Cremin 1:38.34 (49.00, 49.34); 4. Colin Coughlin and Carlo Valdes 1:39.59 (49.66, 49.93); 5. Jake Peterson and Adam Fenton 1:40.41 (50.07, 50.34); 6. Shane Hook and DeAngelo Wilson 1:41.23 (50.40, 50.83); 7. Bryan Berghorn and Andrew Blaser 1:42.27 (50.89, 51.38);


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TEAM CUNNINGHAM EARNS GOLD IN 4 MAN NAC RACE 1


Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) and his newly formed powerhouse crew of Casey Wickline (Greenville, S.C.), James Reed(Garmisch, Germany) and Sam Michener (Greshem, Ore.) were victorious in today’s four-man event with a two-run total of 1:37.57. Cunningham had a speedy start to the season after winning two of three U.S. selection races, and he’s en route to collecting additional hardware on the international circuits. The crew was fastest today from start to finish with push times of 4.89 and 4.85 seconds and finishes of 48.84 and 48.73 seconds, respectively.

"My guys pushed really well and we came together this weekend," Cunningham said. "We are building something great as a team and our dynamic couldn't be better. We are happy to get this confidence heading into World Cup."


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Team Cunningham wins 4 Man USA Selection Race


Cunningham has had a standout start to his season after winning the season opening two-man bobsled selection race in Lake Placid and today’s four-man competition. Cunningham partnered with a fleet of rookies that included Casey Wickline (Greenville, S.C.), James Reed (Scarborough, Maine) and Sam Michener (Gresham, Ore.). The crew powered off the start block in 4.87 and 4.85 seconds for the fastest starts of the competition.

Cunningham was 0.01 seconds behind the team led by Olympic champion Steven Holcomb (Park City, Utah) after the first heat, but he pulled together a flawless final run to pull ahead by 0.31 seconds to take the lead with a total time of 1:37.21.

“When you have a sled full of rookies, you just want to give them a taste of that sweet victory,” Cunningham said. “That’s kind of the good thing about being in the USBSF program. Every day, I get to chase Olympic champion Steven Holcomb. Every day, I’m chasing the best in the world and you can’t ask for a better training partner or someone to emulate and watch.”












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