FEBRUARY 8, 2018, San Antonio, TX – Racing down a frozen track, flat on your back at speeds up to 87 miles an hour, takes mental and physical preparation. Three Soldier-athletes competing in luge are ready to take on that challenge as the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games quickly approach.
The three Soldiers in the World Class Athlete Program spoke confidently about their readiness for this icy event just days away.
The deserving three are Sgt. Emily Sweeney, 24, a military police officer; Sgt. Taylor Morris, 26, an Army human resources specialist; and Sgt. Matthew Mortensen, 32, an interior electrician.
The luge crew are more than just athletes — they also are Soldiers. “It is a really big honor to represent the United States Army and Team USA at the same time,” Mortensen said. “It is a very big responsibility to go as a Soldier to the Olympic Games. It is very important to maintain your military bearing at all times when you are at the games.”
Being a Soldier-athlete is a balancing act, but Army assignments and athletic training go hand in hand, according to Morris. “The WCAP is extremely supportive of their athletes. They are good at getting a schedule out so you know when you have to train and when you have to prepare for the Army.”
According to Sweeney, the sports training helps with the athletes’ overall Army readiness. “We are training all the time so PT tests are no problem,” she said. “I am fit; we are ready to go.”
PT, or physical training, when balanced with diet, helps an athlete’s performance. Sweeney, competing in singles luge, keeps a close eye on hers. “I get a good mix of lean protein and a lot of different-colored vegetables to get the vitamins and minerals I need,” she said.
Sweeney said she occasionally indulges in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to keep her body fat and lean muscle at a good balance.
Morris, competing in singles luge, also incorporates specific foods into his preparation as well as a good night’s rest and music. “I make sure I have a carb-heavy dinner the night before the competition,” he said.
The day of an event, Morris listens to rap, hip-hop and heavy metal to get pumped up. “I listen to a variety of music and warm up for 45 minutes so my body is fully prepared,” he said.
The Soldier-athletes started preparing for the Olympics when they were young. Mortensen, competing in doubles luge with Jayson Terdiman, was introduced to the sport by the Luge Slider Search, a recruitment event used by USA Luge nationwide to teach young participants about the sport using wheeled sleds.
“Once we all got introduced to it, we fell in love with the sport,” he said.
Mortensen attributes his successful journey to his family. One of seven children growing up in Long Island, New York, he trained in Lake Placid, five hours from home.
“For my family to take all of the kids upstate when I was 13 years old, drop me off and then turn around that same day to go home was a big deal, and they had to do that for a couple of years,” he said.
Mortensen’s family continues to support him as he travels and competes. “My family as a whole has been incredibly supportive through my entire career and sport.”
Soldier-athletes are anticipating the arrival of their friends and family in Pyeongchang. Sweeney’s parents, her sister, her sister’s fiancé and an aunt and uncle are flying out from Suffield, Connecticut.
Morris’ wife, Megan, his parents and his sister from Salt Lake and South Jordan, Utah, are planning to attend as well.
The Soldier-athletes have a positive attitude and are ready for the games. “We are pretty good at adapting. We are thrown into situations that are abnormal a lot,” Sweeney said. “Our comfort zones are very fluid, and we are good to go.”
After the Olympics are over, the Soldier athletes plan to relax. Mortensen plans on going to Hawaii for vacation, and Morris wants to visit his wife and family back in Utah.
By Brittany Nelson and Susan A. Merkner, U.S. Army Installation Management Command