An Olympian Among Us

Not many people get their start in international competitive sports at the age of 26. But Pueblo resident Tyler Micheli, now 28, is speeding towards a spot on the 2014 US Olympic skeleton luge team after only two years of training. International competition didn’t become a real goal for Micheli until his mid 20s. Before that, he earned a degree in petroleum engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.
His path to the adrenaline-pumping sport of skeleton luge started in 2008 as a result of the global economic crisis. After being terminated from his position in the oil industry, a friend offered him a job at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, where he became immersed in what he calls “performance culture.” “It excited me,” Micheli said.

Micheli found the idea of building the human body into a perfect machine for a specific

task intriguing. It was this intellectual appeal that drew him – at 85 miles per hour, belly-down and face-first – into the skeleton luge. “I developed theories on human performance,” Micheli said, “and the best way to test them was on myself.”

Micheli was initially unsure what sport to choose. “I wanted a sport that I could start at a late point in life and still be competitive,” he said. He was eventually sucked in by helmet cam footage of the skeleton luge. He described it rapturously, “That pure bliss, of you, a little bit of equipment, the ice and nothing else….”

Relative to other international athletes like gymnasts, Micheli has spent just a tiny fraction of his life training. Even so, he has faith in his chances of qualifying for the Olympics. “I’m optimistic,” he said, in spite of the fact that “competition’s pretty stiff when you have the top four people in the sport.” Qualifying rounds will take place in 2013 for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Micheli believes his rapid rise through the ranks of the skeleton community comes partly from his intellectually-inspired devotion to training. During the off-season, Micheli rotates his job and schedule in two-week intervals. During the season, which runs from mid-September to early April, nearly every waking moment is purposed toward improving his performance. Sports medicine, pre-therapy, rigorous workouts, equipment maintenance, studying footage, super-nutritious meals – and surprisingly little time spent on the track.

On a good day, a skeleton racer might make two or three runs. That means at most,

Micheli said, 400-500 minutes of sliding time all season. “The brain and body just get depleted from the G-forces and stress of sliding and being 100% mentally engaged on each trip down the track,” Micheli said. “Each trip down the track is a chance to build and reinforce neural pathways, so having two quality runs and calling it a day is preferred to tacking on a third run if you’re just not entirely mentally ‘there.’”

To make up for such limited time on the track, Micheli spends hours laying on the floor with his sled, watching helmet cam footage and immersing himself in an imaginary run down the track. Other methods of off-track training include obsessive journaling about each track.

Micheli’s engineering background provides him another edge in this sport. “Understanding physics [helps]. It allows me to understand things like the acceleration profile of the track, and the physics of the sled.” Micheli’s methodical, monkish devotion to the sport is clear whenever he talks about the actual experience of sliding. “There are two sides: first it’s fast, a sprint, you dive onto the sled and try to be as explosive as possible, then it’s just pure calm, just reacting. If you breath too deep on a straightaway, then it transfers into the sled and you can skid. You have to stop thinking on the sled, because thinking is slow.”

Aside from errant thoughts on the sled, another factor that slows down athletes like

Micheli is money. Micheli explained that skeleton is an expensive sport. Yearly expenditures can reach $30,000 for serious competitors. And the US Olympic Committee pays for room and board while athletes stay at the training center, but otherwise offers no compensation.

Athletes in sports with big audiences and markets can pay their way with corporate

sponsorships. Take Shaun White, a snowboarder and skateboarder, for instance, who makes a living off of Red Bull endorsements. Skeleton (and sports like it), though, lies at a difficult financial crossroads. It’s extremely expensive, but has no market for sponsorships. Micheli relies on small-scale sponsorships and individual contributions to fund his ambitions.

If you’re interested in contributing to Micheli’s training fund, you can contact him personally at tyler.micheli@gmail.com or with a check payable to the Utah Skeleton and Bobsled association mailed to P.O. Box 581131, Salt Lake City, UT 84158. All donations through the USBA are 100% tax deductible.

By Chris Clark

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