On a lark, she tried the luge

Olympic trainers see promise in a Wesley Chapel girl, who likes the view at 60 mph.

Published March 18, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - No one thought Sara Reamer would really get the callback.

Not her mom, her dad or her older brother, Jeffrey. Not even Sara herself.

After all, she tried out for the USA Luge Junior Developmental Team on a whim, looking to fill a few hours on a Saturday with a friend, Katie Beardsley.

"I thought, 'It'll be fun. I'll get a cool T-shirt,' " said Sara, who attended the recruiting event for USA Luge - the organization that trains Olympic athletes - last June at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Nine months later, Sara's coaches in Lake Placid, N.Y., are calling her "the experiment," said her mom, Jean. Other folks compare her to the Cool Runnings Jamaican Bobsled Team that came to fame during the 1988 Olympic games in Calgary.

They wouldn't be far off.

As a native Floridian, Sara is used to winter sports often played in shorts and a T-shirt. The fair-skinned, freckled-face teen had never seen or felt snow before. She didn't know the difference between packed powder and the heavier kind that's good for making snowmen. She didn't even know what the luge was till she Googled it on her computer that Saturday morning before the tryouts.

Luge, she discovered, is the French word for "sled" as well as an Olympic event.

"I had seen it on a Disney commercial and it looked neat, but I didn't know the name of the sport," she said.

So who knew the 14-year-old powerhouse would be so adept at steering the 25-pound sled on wheels down the U-Haul truck ramp, and using her shoulders and foot to steer around the orange cones set up in the asphalt parking lot at USF?

Her experience as an athlete at Weightman Middle School - where the eighth-grader has competed in track, soccer, basketball and volleyball - helped, as did the flexibility that comes from being a dancer, a gymnast and captain of the cheerleading squad.

By November, Sara and her mom and dad were flying to the Lake Placid training center. A little later, as one of 24 members of a youth screening team, Sara found herself wondering about the cemetery she passed by on the drive up the mountain.

"I thought, 'I hope this isn't for the people attempting the luge,' " she said, flashing an easy smile.

When it came to making her first run down the icy, curved track, there was even more fear to tackle.

"I was scared that I'd get scared. After I got down I was like, 'This is fun. Let's go again.' "

"She was eager - almost too eager. We had to hold her back a little," development coach Pat Anderson said in a recent telephone interview. Anderson, 26, helped select Sara as a member of the USA Luge Junior Developmental Team after that initial screening, Step 3 in moving up the Olympic training ladder.

"She stood out in sliding as well as in the gym," he said. "She's a great athlete and you could see that right away. It was kind of a no-brainer after that."

In January Sara attended another two-week training session where she was given some official gear: a beat-up gold jumpsuit, helmet and spiked gloves for gripping the ice at the start. She spent time in the gym lifting weights, doing pushups and situps, and logging miles on the treadmill alongside Olympic Team members.

"That was so cool, having all those Olympic athletes in the same gym as you," she said.

And she took her turns racing down the track at 50 to 60 mph as her mother watched from a distance, sometimes in horror.

"It's not easy," said her mom. "That's my baby whizzing by."

"There's a lot to it, a lot of physics," Sara said. Like "knowing where and when to steer. Knowing if you're early or late on a curve. Knowing you have to hold on to your sled if you flip or crash because you don't want it to come back at you."

"I've learned a lot of other things, too. That your face can chap. I know what an ice scraper is. And I got to shovel snow. I loved that," she said. "All the other kids thought that was funny. They were like, 'You can come shovel snow at my house any time.' "

Sara might be doing more of that when she attends another two-week training session starting March 25. That's when she'll enter her first official race. If she continues next year she'll be training for six weeks at a time.

And the rest, perhaps, will be history in the making.

On to the Olympics one day as the sole Floridian luge competitor?

"That would be nice. That would be fun," Sara said. "But I don't want to get too ahead of myself. I just want to go fast."

Michele Miller can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6251 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext 6251. Her e-mail is miller@sptimes.com.