There are times when I’m so tired, and I’m in a workout, and I just think, I want to be able to tell my son when he is a teenager, ‘I did not take the shortcuts.’ I want him to know when things got hard, you just don’t quit. —Olympian Chris Fogt
Editor's note: Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson is in Pyeongchang, South Korea, covering the 2018 Winter Games. This is the 14th in a series of articles profiling Utahns competing in the Olympics.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Daxton and Brynlee Fogt spend a lot of nights wondering where their daddy is. Luckily, they never have to wonder how he feels about them.
“Even though we’re not with him, he FaceTimes the kids twice a day, tells them stories, and we still feel like (we’re) involved in each other's lives,” said Rachel Fogt, the wife of bobsled athlete Chris Fogt, who will compete in his third Olympics on Saturday. “It is awesome to see him as a father. If there is one job that he does well, he’s definitely dedicated to fatherhood. He’s not the come-home-sit-on-the-couch kind of dad. He’s really active, and it’s really awesome to see him with the kids.”
Fogt, a captain in the United States Army (Military Intelligence) who’s been stationed in Texas, grew up in Alpine and was running track at Utah Valley University when “two men in suits” approached him about giving bobsled a try at the Utah Olympic Park.
He admits, with a bit of laughter, that his first trip down the bobsled track was so terrifying it was almost his last. Luckily, he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and eventually he was persuaded to stick with it.
His ability to push a bobsled earned him a spot on the 2010 Olympic team after just 10 months in a program that allows soldiers to compete with the U.S. Bobsled team. In fact, there are several other soldiers in the sliding sports, including the pilot that will drive his sled in Pyeongchang, Justin Olsen.
On his second run in Vancouver, in the curve dubbed 50-50 by Park City bobsled pilot Steve Holcomb for the odds of making it through the treacherous stretch upright, they crashed, as did five other sleds in that competition.
Fogt was emotional afterward, saying it was the men he serves with in the Army that gave him the strength to hold on as they barreled down the track upside down at 90-ish miles an hour.
After the games, Fogt chose to be deployed to Iraq. The 34-year-old spent a year telling stories of his Olympic experiences to guys crammed in Humvees in the desert.
“I almost chose not to keep bobsledding because I love being in the Army so much,” he told the Deseret News in 2014. “I love serving my country in that way. (The Olympics seemed a little superficial at the time, coming from a war zone, coming from Iraq, guys are dying, guys are serving, and I’m going to go slide down the hill with my friends in spandex.”
He felt like he needed to give up bobsled to serve alongside them, but it was those soldiers who convinced him that he needed to represent them on the start line of another Olympics.
“They loved it,” he said of their support in pursuit of Olympic glory. “It’s a great inspiration to them.”
So he returned to the U.S. bobsled after his year in Iraq, and this time he earned a spot pushing for the most successful bobsled pilot in U.S. history — and a fellow Utahn — Steve Holcomb.
This time around, they won bronze.
Fogt joked that he didn’t care what color the medal was as long as it was an Olympic medal, but Holcomb apparently did. As they celebrated their second Games together, Holcomb pulled him aside and made him a promise.
“The night of closing ceremonies, (bobsled pilot) Steve Holcomb said to me, ‘Come back in four years and we’ll win gold for you,’” said Fogt. “So that was my intention all along. He called (Steve) Langton and got him on board. All of that kind of changed with Holcomb’s passing.”
As the most successful bobsled pilot in U.S. history, Park City’s Holcomb had become more than the face of the sport. To the world, he was USA Bobsled. As Fogt put it, with Holcomb driving, all you had to do was show up and “give him a good push.”
“When you slide with Holcomb, any race of the year, if you gave him a good start, you knew you could be top three at the bottom,” he said.
His unexpected death last May left the team reeling emotionally and practically. He was the most skilled, and he invested his time in teaching other drivers, including Justin Olsen, who was a push athlete for Holcomb in 2010 when they ended America’s 62-year drought in Olympic bobsled medals with a gold. Olsen made the switch to driving two years ago, and he thought he’d have plenty of time to learn from the best driver in the world.
Instead, he finds himself trying to figure out how to compete in the 2018 Olympics less than two weeks after an emergency appendectomy. He still wears his hospital bracelet as a reminder of what he’s been through to stand with his bobsled brothers at that start line. And the medical procedure just left the most visible mark of what the team has lost, and how they will try to honor Holcomb and his contributions to the team and the sport when they line up at the Alpensia Sliding Center Saturday morning.
While Fogt came back to push for Holcomb, he stayed for Langton and Olsen, who came into the U.S. bobsled program at the same time he did. In fact, Langton has pushed with him in all three Olympics.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, noting they had a sixth-place finish in the competition right before they came to South Korea. “It’s good to help the younger guys on the team. For eight of them, this is their first Olympics.”
But a third trip to the Olympics meant more sacrifice, and this time around it’s not just him that has to give something up. It’s his young family, who will watch Fogt and his crew compete in the 2018 Games from their Utah County home.
“My family is just one more motivating factor,” he said of how fatherhood has shaped and influenced his efforts. “There are times when I’m so tired, and I’m in a workout, and I just think, I want to be able to tell my son when he is a teenager, ‘I did not take the shortcuts.’ I want him to know when things got hard, you just don’t quit. Having (children) holds me a little bit more accountable. I have to set an emotional example for someone else.” He laughs about the fact that fatherhood may — or may not — have made him a bit more emotional.
Fogt, one of eight children, said he thinks often of what his parents sacrificed for him and his siblings, and what an emotional rollercoaster it must have been to raise them.
“I only have two,” he said laughing, “and there are times when I want to rip my hair out when they’re crying. My respect level has gone through the roof. It’s brought me closer (to my parents). Understanding how they feel and all the sacrifices they made, it means a lot more now.”
He said he was blown away by what it felt like to hold his son that first time.
“I didn’t know, the first time you hold that child, how quickly you can love someone,” he said. “I love my wife dearly, but it took me years to learn to love her. Nothing makes me want to be a better person, to try harder and be successful like having a child.”