Amy Donaldson: USA bobsledder Chris Fogt of Alpine finds inspiration in the U.S. soldiers he represents
Photo provided by Chris Fogt, Photo provided by Chris Fogt
PARK CITY — Chris Fogt thought of them when the bobsled he was riding overturned on the treacherous track in Whistler, British Columbia, ending his Olympic medal hopes.
It was their strength he summoned when the searing pain of the violent crash in February 2010 tempted him to let go — to give up.
He remembers the difficulty of their duty when he's sweating in a gym — legs screaming, heart pounding — and he's able to push a little harder.
He represents them when he stands at the start line of an icy track and feels a little stronger, a little faster and infinitely more proud.
He carries with him every minute of every day the support they offered him when they all suffered tedious but sometimes life-threatening duty in Iraq for the country they all love.
It was the faces, the sacrifice and the encouragement of his fellow U.S. soldiers that convinced him not to give up on his dream of chasing Olympic glory. After all, they need him, and in very significant ways, he needs them.
"I talked to my commander quite often," said Fogt, a 29-year-old graduate of American Fork High School who is a push athlete for USA II. He is also a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army specializing in military intelligence. He spent a year in Iraq after competing in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
"They offer unwavering support through the ups and downs. I have friends over in Afghanistan still today," he said after competing in Park City Saturday. "They actually watch my races, and before I've even finished, I'll have texts on my phone saying, 'Good job!'"
Fogt was running track for Utah Valley University when a couple recruiters complimented him on his speed and asked him if he would consider trying out for the U.S. bobsled team. He was intrigued by the idea of representing his country in the Olympics, so he participated in testing and proved to be one of the best.
He was already involved in ROTC, so being accepted into the Army's World Class Athlete Program became the perfect marriage of two of Fogt's passions — the military and athletic competition. In exchange for his service, he has the funding and freedom to pursue his Olympic dreams.
"WCAP is the best sponsor you could ever have," said Fogt, who with his USA II teammates earned the fastest push time and fifth place overall in the four-man bobsled event in Saturday's FIBT World Cup at Utah Olympic Park. "They're really supportive of us. They allow us to travel, pay for bills, buy equipment; they help out with all of that. I think that's why we're doing so well together. We have the funding and the help and the kind of mentality of being, it may sound cliché, but being Army strong."
WCAP also provides athletes like Fogt a secondary team, one he felt compelled to commit to after competing in Vancouver in 2010. In press conferences after the crash, his first concern was rejoining his unit and serving his country.
He wanted to be a soldier — not a soldier athlete.
That summer Fogt was deployed to Iraq for a year, and found the work there was some of the most challenging and rewarding of his life. What he didn't expect was how much it means to his fellow soldiers that he has succeeded as an athlete.
"When I met people over there, they were really inspired," said Fogt.
They had questions and congratulations. They asked him to recount stories of the experience when they had downtime in convoys.
"It was something to talk about," he said. "It really helped us gel. They think it's awesome."
Fogt, who served a mission in the Philippines for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before attending UVU, said his work in Iraq meant so much to him, he almost abandoned his Olympic dream.
"I almost quit and wanted to go full-time Army," he said smiling. "My mentor is a two-star general, and he said this is a once in a life-time opportunity."
Knowing that his combat brothers find his athletic endeavors inspiring energizes Fogt, who doesn't take his work on the bobsled track lightly.
"I haven't taken time off just to go sled down a hill,' he said, "I'm trying to win a medal and represent our country in that way. … For me, I feel like I need to work even harder to support those guys."
And in a way, he represents them.
"It gives me the extra motivation, knowing the hardships of leaving their families their friends, and having and that camaraderie (with them). It helps me a lot."
It also helps that Fogt pushes for another WCAP athlete, driver Nick Cunningham. Fogt's pilot in Vancouver was also a member of the Army National Guard, John Napier, who did retire from bobsled to serve in the military full-time.
"I tried to talk him out of it, I'm not going to lie," Fogt with a little smile. But he's grateful he can put his trust in another driver who understands the soldier's bond and how conflicted they feel competing in sporting events when their brothers are fighting battles half a world away.
"It provides a little extra bond," said Cunningham as Fogt puts his hand on the pilot's shoulder.
On Fogt's Team USA uniform, there is a patch on his arm bearing the logo of the U.S. Army National Guard.
"When I look down at that it reminds me of my buddies in Iraq," he said. "It reminds me to push harder."
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