Meet a Skeleton Slider: Veronica Day

How did this track and field athlete wind up barreling headfirst down an icy track at 80 mph?

Veronica Day
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It started off as a joke. While watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Veronica Day and her college roommate laughed about making a bobsled team. And then the joke lasted a few months.

Day found herself looking online to see what one must do to become a bobsledder. She found out it all starts with a physical fitness test given by the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, which often recruits track and field athletes. As a decorated NCAA Division I long jumper and triple jumper at Elon University in N.C., Day figured she fit the bill. So during the summer after she graduated in 2011, Day took the physical fitness test and aced it.

The following November, the federation invited her to try sliding down the ice, and she wound up falling in love with skeleton – an individual, headfirst sled race through a downward, curvy iced track. The tracks are typically around a mile long, and sliders usually blast through them in about a minute. (Google a video of skeleton, and you may find yourself holding onto your chair.)

A recent graduate with degrees in international business and international studies, Day didn't have a specific post-college plan, besides the elusive move-to-a-city-I-like-and-find-a-job, so why not give skeleton a try? "I figured, OK, so I go try out and slide a little bit, and if I don't like it, then I'll go find a job," she says. "It's another six months. What's six months, you know?"

Six months turned out to be a lot of fun, and now Day is about two years into her skeleton career. Instead of plowing through internships and entry-level desk jobs, Day is a member of the U.S. Skeleton team and clocking times of up to 80 mph on the track. In fact, she's now training for the 2014 Winter Olympics trials and aiming to compete in the 2018 games. Day shared some of her adventure with U.S. News. Her responses have been edited.

What's the connection between your track and field events and bobsled? Why do you think the bobsled and skeleton recruiters were looking for track and field athletes?

For skeleton and bobsled, you have to exert a ton of energy during the first 50 meters of an actual run. It's this kind of gradual slope, and we sprint in a downward position next to our sled. And you need to be really fast at the top. So the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation recruits fast people – athleticism, pretty much – so that those athletes will already be competitive with the best in the world at the top of the track. And then their job is to teach you how to drive [the sled] and the fastest way possible to get to the bottom of the track.

Your parents were supportive of you trying skeleton after college. Fast-forward to now, when you're sliding competitively in a sport that looks very intense. Do they worry about you getting hurt?

Well, in terms of the sliding sports – louge, bobsled and skeleton – skeleton is the least dangerous. I had to explain that to my parents numerous times. My dad just thinks it's cool, but my mom, on the other hand, can be a little bit of a worry wart. I've crashed a couple times and have had really bad runs. But it's really not that bad.

Any broken bones?

No. That does certainly happen with skeleton, but it's mostly bruises. I have some cuts on my chin from my first year.

How do you train in season, and where?

There is ice on the track pretty much six months of the year. There are tracks all over Europe. In the United States, there are tracks in Lake Placid, N.Y. and in Park City, Utah. There are also two in Canada. In season, we slide every day, five days a week, pretty much. And we train in the morning and slide in the afternoon or evening.

And then the off-season is all dedicated to that push start right at the beginning. There's no ice on the track, so you can't actually train for the driving aspect. So off season is dedicated to sprinting and lifting and pushing.

In the off season, when you're working on sprinting and lifting, what kinds of muscles are you building for skeleton?