The coaches at the bobsled training camp fumbled for words to accurately describe to Kaysha Love what it feels like to ride inside one of the hollowed-out fiberglass logs as it skids on two thin blades down a steep, slick tube of ice.
Like a freight train. No, more like a roller coaster. Or maybe like rolling down a hill in a garbage can.
Actually, even though she had never come within a mile of a bobsled before showing up at the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s dryland camp last winter, Love knew exactly what it feels like to ride inside a bobsled. It’s a sensation the former gymnast from Herriman had experienced many times on the mat.
“People say [it’s like] being kicked off a mountain in a trash can,” she said. “Yeah, that’s very, very accurate.”
This may be a story, then, of one woman’s trash being another woman’s treasure. That tumbling sensation has become Love’s favorite part of the sport and she, in turn, has become a true find for Team USA. A year after hearing her first bobsled roar down the track, Love will be driving what is expected to be one of the fastest sleds in the world this weekend during the Beijing Olympics.
The Utah native who now lives in Las Vegas is paired with pilot Kaillie Humphreys in the two-woman event being held Friday and Saturday at the Yangqing Sliding Center north of Beijing. Humphreys, who won two gold medals in two-woman while racing for Canada in 2010 and ‘18, won the inaugural Olympic monobob competition earlier this week. She just edged out silver medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, who will be piloting Team USA’s other sled with the help of Sylvia Hoffman.
Love and Humphries are sitting in fifth place after Friday’s opening heats. Meyers Taylor and Hoffman are in third. Two German teams hold the top spots.
“I’m really excited for our program that we have a young, fantastic brakeman,” Humphries told the Associated Press in December. “She is super coachable and eager to learn and I’m looking forward to seeing her grow in this sport.”
A gymnast since age 5, she had grown to enjoy how she felt almost bouyant when she went airborne. Love thought she’d lost that feeling her freshman year at Herriman High when, plagued by injuries, she gave up gymnastics.
But she rediscovered it on the bobsled track.
“It’s that same adrenaline, that same feeling of like your body kind of being, not lost in space, but just moving through space in a way that’s not just normal to like regular day of life,” Love said. “Flipping through the air and gliding down the mountain at 80 miles an hour are just not natural feelings. To experience those feelings is something that I really, like, drive for it. It’s been. It’s been so fun.”
Love brings more to the track than an unnatural affinity for being suspended in air, though. Her speed and strength truly are her advantages. In fact, those were what caught the attention of Team USA recruiters when they went looking to bolster their team ahead of the 2022 Winter Games.
After she left gymnastics, Love channeled her energy into track. She led Herriman to four state titles and as a senior was named Utah’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Love fielded several scholarship offers and eventually defied her mother’s pleas to stay in-state by picking UNLV. The reason? It was warm.
“I didn’t want any part of the snow or the cold anymore,” she said.
The joke’s on her, then. Temperatures at Yangqing at 8 p.m. local time, when heats are scheduled to begin, have plummeted to a numbing -20 degrees.
She brought up her aversion to snow two years into her career as a Runnin’ Rebel when assistant coach Larry Wade first broached the idea of Love looking into bobsled. Two years after that, Love was staring down the end of a collegiate career in which she helped set the school record in the 4x100-meter relay and would reach the NCAA championships three times. A scout for the national team came calling with an invitation to the camp at Lake Placid. Love couldn’t see a reason not to try it.
Bobsled had actually been her favorite Olympic sport to watch from the time she was a kid.
“Just the fact they were just sprinting on ice, getting into the sled and just flying down this mountain at a million miles an hour,” she said. “It was a concept that just fascinated me.”
Some would consider Love a natural. She did, after all, come out as one of the best athletes at the training camp and then beat out several veterans to make the Olympic team, all within one year of her first ride. She disagrees. She credits Wade for track coaching that focused on technique as much as times.
“The way I looked at it was I didn’t just pick up bobsled really fast,” she said, “I had genuinely been training for bobsled for the last eight years of my track and field career without even recognizing it or acknowledging it.”
Utah hasn’t produced a bobsled racer since Steven Holcomb. Holcomb, a Park City native who won gold in the four-man event in 2010 and brought home two silvers in 2014, was the most decorated bobsled racer in U.S. history — at least until Humphreys and Meyers-Taylor came along. They both surpassed Holcomb’s Olympic hardware tally with their monobob medals, which gives them four apiece.
Three of Humphreys’ medals, however, came when she was racing for Canada.
Humphreys opted to race for the U.S. after undergoing, she says, mental and physical abuse at the hands of Canadian bobsled coach Todd Hays [Hays has denied the allegations]. Her application for U.S. citizenship was not approved, however, until early December. The week it went through, Love was driving for Humphreys at a World Cup race in Altenburg, Germany. Humphreys missed most of the training runs but, perhaps fueled by relief, they scratched out Love’s first major victory in just her second World Cup race.
“It was just really exciting because I saw all the pain and the heartache and struggles and all the stuff behind closed doors that she was going through,” Love said. “So to kind of see all that stuff pay off and then to now have the opportunity to push her to potentially another medal,
“It’s just a feeling that I can’t even describe.”
Maybe it’s a little like a freight train. Or a little like a trash can being kicked down a hill.