Army, faith helped push Mormon bobsledder Chris Fogt to Olympic success
Dita Alangkara, ASSOCIATED PRESS
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Olympic bronze medalist Chris Fogt’s time in Iraq almost meant the end of his bobsled career.
That’s because the 30-year-old Alpine, Utah, man never aspired to represent his country in athletics. Instead, the American Fork High graduate and Utah Valley University track standout chose military service after serving a two-year mission in the Philippines for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“When I got home from my mission, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Fogt told the Deseret News before the Sochi Games. “After a year, I knew I wanted to join the Army.”
It was when he was competing for the Wolverines that recruiters saw him and convinced him to give bobsled a try.
“I definitely didn’t like it right away,” he said, laughing. “After my first trip, I thought, ‘This is real rough. It can’t be fun for people.’ I wasn’t too fond of it.”
But he was fond of the guys on the team.
“I ended up staying around, and I ended up being good at it,” he said.
But it was his introduction to the Army’s World Class Athlete Program that convinced him to commit to bobsled rather than seek deployment overseas.
Fogt made the 2010 Olympic team as a push athlete for John Napier, another WCAP soldier/athlete in the USA-2 sled in four-man bobsled. But they crashed on the second of four runs and didn’t get an official finish. That experience has stayed with him for four years — including the year he spent in Iraq after the Games.
“When people meet me, they say, ‘Oh, you went to the Games? How’d you do?’ ” Fogt said after winning bronze as a push athlete for USA-1, which was driven by fellow Utahn Steve Holcomb, on Feb. 23. “ ‘Oh, last place.’ It’s been tough to say that, and now I have something to show for it. I’m very proud of how we did, proud to have raced with these guys.”
Fogt was the only member of the team without a medal when they began competing on Feb. 22 at the Sochi Games. While Steve Langton was with Fogt in USA-2 when it crashed in 2010 in Vancouver, the Massachusetts native earned bronze with Holcomb in the two-man event earlier in the week.
When the four-man team crossed the finish line assured of a medal, Fogt broke down.
“It’s been unbelievable, to tell you the honest truth,” he said, tears welling in his eyes, as teammate Curtis Tomasevicz put his hand on his shoulder. “I was overwhelmed with emotion, like I am now. It just felt great. It just means a lot for me and my family, my wife, who is home pregnant, and for the military. I’m very excited I could be out here to win something for them.”
Fogt returned to the U.S. bobsled program after serving in Iraq as a member of the Army’s Military Intelligence. Now a captain, he said he enjoyed his service so much, he thought about not returning to the sport.
But he found that the soldiers he served with wanted him to compete for them. They were intrigued and inspired by his Olympic experience, and he said it helped him pass time on long rides through the desert.
His stories distracted them from the tedious and tense stretches.
"It was something to talk about," he said. "It really helped us gel. They think it's awesome."
The guilt he felt for not continuing to serve with them was assuaged by their support of his efforts.
"I almost quit and wanted to go full-time Army," he told the Deseret News in 2012 after his return. "My mentor is a two-star general, and he said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
So Fogt returned to training for bobsled competition, and while he inspired them in the desert, they inspired him on the track. Fogt said any time he felt tired or discouraged, he thought of them, far from their loved ones, counting on him to represent them on that starting line.
Fogt’s LDS faith has sustained and guided him throughout his experiences — as an athlete, as a soldier and now as a husband and soon-to-be father.
His father, Bill, converted to the Mormon faith at age 24 while he served in the Army. Afterward, he attended Brigham Young University, where he met Fogt’s mom, Janet.
Fogt's father taught seminary, and the family moved a lot because of his job. Fogt started high school at Lone Peak in Highland, Utah. The family moved to Massachusetts and then back to Utah, where he graduated from American Fork High.
Fogt chose to attend Utah State University, but he said he struggled with the idea of putting his schoolwork first. Choosing to serve a Mormon mission, however, was an easy decision.
“I was ready for a break,” he said. “I was so happy to go. Most of my friends had already gone.”
He learned as much as he taught on his mission to the Philippines.
“At the age of 19, traveling to a third-world country for the first time, you learn what you really need in life versus what you want in life," he said. "... When you see people living four or five in a one-room little house, and they’re still so happy, loving and giving, it’s awesome. Growing up, when you’re young, you think you need to make money in order to be happy.”
He said the language was difficult, but he immersed himself in the culture and the experience.
“I’ve always been a little crazy,” he said. “I ate everything I could — dog, duck eggs — I got worms over there. It’s the same in the Army — no sleep, MREs — I kind of like that lifestyle.”
Fogt returned from his mission and transferred to UVU, where he ran track on scholarship. Recruiters saw him and persuaded him to try bobsled.
While he appreciates the experiences being an Olympic athlete — and now an Olympic medalist — has given him, he said his faith reminds him that there are more important goals than winning races.
“Sometimes, when you’re just around athletes, you kind of forget deeper things in life, what’s important, having a family, being a good person,” he said. “It’s about how do we win, how do we have fun. ... It’s a much more selfish life. So it’s nice to be reminded and be humbled once in a while.”
When Fogt was in Iraq, he said, there were a lot of soldiers with whom he could worship.
“In Baghdad, we had a small branch,” he said. “It was nice to be able to relax once a week, work on other things that weren’t Army. It was nice to go to church and talk about peace and love and Christ. You’re in a war zone, going to church, but you’re not wearing a suit and tie. You’re wearing your Army uniform, with a weapon on you the whole time. It was a very interesting situation.”
As a member of the U.S. bobsled team, he has to compete on Sundays during every World Cup. So finding time to worship requires some creativity. He makes sure to read scriptures and general conference talks.
“Growing up with parents who were active, being around it all of the time, I just kind of got used to going (to church),” Fogt said. “I was kind of going through the motions in high school and college. Being on my own challenged me to find my own faith.”
Those experiences taught him that he loves the concepts of the gospel — especially the value of family.
“I’m learning more about myself, why I like church and why I go to church,” he said. “That’s been huge for me. Before, I went because my parents went or my friends went. Now, I go because I really like church. I love to meet new people, learn about Christ and the gospel and help myself be a better person.”
Fogt said his life has been about phases. Right now, his most important priority is his new — and growing — family. He married his college sweetheart, Rachel, in the Salt Lake Temple in August. They’re expecting their first child in May, and he reports for active duty with the Army on May 5.
“I’m very close to my mom and dad and my sister and brothers,” he said, noting he has eight siblings.
Being married has deepened his commitment to his faith.
“It makes me much more disciplined, especially now,” he said. “Even before I was married, I was not really out with the guys much. But I think one of the reasons I’ve had more success this year than any other is that I’m married. I got engaged in May, focused on training and have just been a lot more low-key.”
He said being the lone Mormon on his team has also helped him stay committed to gospel principles.
“When you’re the guy who doesn’t drink, doesn’t cuss, there is almost more pressure,” he said. “But I actually like it. It helps me follow what I know is true. It’s been great. I learned in the Army who I was and what I want in life. I think my testimony has grown a lot.”
He acknowledged that faith requires diligence and constant affirmation. He points to the “rough patch” he had before his mission when he was a student at Utah State.
“People say, ‘If you believe that, why would you fall away?’ ” he said. “To me, it’s a process of me learning about Christ, growing and learning why I want to follow him.”
Ready for what comes
After the medal-winning race, Fogt stood in front of the media, talking about what it took to earn bronze, when Tomasevic tapped him on the shoulder.
Fogt looked at the phone and smiled. “This is my wife,” he said.
He turned away from the mass of journalists and said, “Hey, what’s up, sweetie?”
He walked away, not just from the interviews but also from the sport — at least for the next few years.
“I’m taking a few years off to go back to the military,” he said. “If I’m still in shape, I’m going to try to come back in 2016.”
He has no idea where they’ll send him, but that doesn’t matter. An adventurous soul, he’s ready for whatever comes his way.
“Whatever the Army tells me to do, I’ll fall in line like a regular Joe and do my job,” he said.
And this time, when they’re passing time on tedious transports or waiting at dusty outposts, he’ll have a much better ending to his Olympic stories.
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