It’s a scary but exhilarating ride for Nebraska woman on national bobsled team

It’s a scary but exhilarating ride for Nebraska woman on national bobsled team
You can follow Nicole Brungardt's bobsled adventures on teamnicoleusa.com or by searching for #NICGOLD on social media. MOLLY CHOMA

An elevator will whisk Nicole Brungardt up seven flights to the starting ramp of her World Cup bobsled race in Latvia on Friday.

The trip back down the track will be much faster. And scarier.

“Seventy to 90 miles (per hour) down an ice tube,’’ Brungardt said. “No seat belts; just holding on. There’s a lot of nerves going into it for sure. I pray several times.’’

But it’s also exhilarating. And so much fun.

The former Wayne State volleyball player and sprint star says there’s nothing she’d rather do than compete for her country.

Brungardt, 28, found out at the end of October that she made the U.S. bobsled national team competing on the World Cup circuit. She’s one of the four brakemen who work with the two pilots on the squad. They push the sleigh at the start of the race and then stop it after it hits the finish line.

Speed and strength are a must, and the 5-foot-8 Brungardt has both. The World-Herald Nebraska girls high school athlete of the year for Norfolk Catholic in 2008 specialized in the sprints at Wayne State, and she can also squat lift 281 pounds. She survived a combine, rookie camp, trials and the selection committee to ensure her spot.

Her former volleyball coach at Wayne, Scott Kneifl, said there’s no doubt his former back-row specialist has the tools to compete at an elite level. But that’s just the start.

“She is the most explosive and fast-twitch athlete I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, but her work ethic, heart, competitiveness and ability to be the ultimate team player puts her over the top,’’ he said. “ I don’t care what sport, athletic event or board game you are playing. You want Nicole Brungardt on your team.’’

Brungardt won three gold medals last year on the North American tour, which she described as a sort of junior varsity competition. She was part of a winning two-man team at the U.S. national team trials at Lake Placid, New York, which further bolstered her chances.

Competing this season doesn’t ensure a spot at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, because she has to requalify every year, but that’s the goal.

“It’s the closest you can get at this point,’’ Brungardt said.

She quit her job in Omaha in May and moved to Lake Placid to focus on her training. USA Bobsled/Skeleton pays for travel, equipment and food, and people and businesses in Norfolk have donated funds to help keep her dream alive.

It’s pretty amazing to hear the national anthem after a victory, Brungardt says. But although she loves that feeling of contributing as a team, and knowing she gave her all, bobsledding is not an easy sport.

“A lot of people think it’s just an easy ride,’’ she said. “It can be pretty rough and pretty violent.’’

That’s especially the case on a new track for the team such as the one in Sigulda, Latvia, which hasn’t held a World Cup event in 12 years. The squad came a week early to get used to the conditions.

That also gave Brungardt some time to explore the country. After returning home for Christmas, she’ll then compete in Germany, Austria, Switzerland,  Canada and the U.S. The world championships are in Whistler, Canada, in March.

Brungardt said the whole experience is amazing.

“It’s the best thing in the whole world to be honest,’’ she said. “I couldn’t dream a better life for me right now.’’

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