How Olympic Athlete Elana Meyers Taylor Got Into Bobsledding & Became A Trailblazer In A Male-Dominated Sport
In 2007, Elana Meyers Taylor was already dreaming of one day being an Olympic Gold Medalist — as a member of the American softball team. Little did she know that a decade later, she would go on to qualify for the Olympic Bobsledding team, break the sport's gender barrier, and make Olympic history.
When she was a student at George Washington University, Meyers Taylor spent her summers playing professional softball and training for the Olympic trials. When she didn't make the team, Meyers Taylor chose the path of resilience over discouragement. She became determined to find a brand new sport and try all over again. After being shown a video of Vonetta Flowers competing in bobsled by her parents, Meyers Taylor resolved to try it out herself.
So how does a professional athlete switch sports, and subsequently career paths, after years of training? Google. Meyers Taylor looked up bobsledding coaches on the internet, and sent a couple blind emails. Shortly after, she was invited to try out.
The Physical And Mental Challenge Of Learning A New Sport
And thus began Meyers Taylor's bobsledding journey, which would ultimately lead to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games — and a silver medal. The preparation required an incredible amount of passion and the training was strenuous and intense. Meyers Taylor's exercise regimen leading up to each race resembled that of Olympic weightlifters and sprinters: short and vigorous. As a competition approaches, bobsledders prepare with six on-ice races in three days, on the track.
"I wish more people knew how much skill is required," Meyers Taylor tells Bustle. "Most people think you just hop in the sled and lean. You actually have to drive the sled, there is a lot of speed and power involved to get the sled moving and you also have to deal with aerodynamics."
Meyers Taylor grew to love the sport, despite the physical challenge and the immense risk. Bobsledders are traveling at over 90 mph when they race, which means that as they maneuver their sled, they are making major decisions in split seconds that if even an inch off, could end in a crash or injury.
"The actual driving of the sled is so exciting but challenging" Meyers Taylor says. "You’re in the face of danger every day but you have to make the decision to just go for it." Following your gut and learning to trust your intuition is a large part of the sport. Bobsledding is a stunning combination of physical strength and psychological endurance; one cannot exist without the other. Meyers Taylor's confidence is part of what makes her such a fierce athlete — she truly believes in herself.
Breaking The Gender Barrier
Women's bobsledding first became an Olympic sport in 2002, reports ESPN, and the U.S. women's team has brought home medals every Olympics since then. But unlike men who have more opportunities for competing, Meyers Taylor is still waiting for the four-woman bobsled to be added to the Olympic Games.
In 2014, Meyers Taylor married her coach and bobsledder, Nic Taylor. The two began competing together, despite the disadvantages of mixed-team bobsledding. In order to make up for the disparity in weight between male competitors and herself, Meyers Taylor has to add weight to her sled. This means that Meyers Taylor's brakeman must initially push a heavier sled. Additionally, Men's bobsledding has the same amount of runs as Women's bobsledding, and contains two-man and four-man sleds. But because Meyers Taylor is a Women's competitor, if she were to participate in four-man, she'd have to give up her two-man. But despite these setbacks, Meyers Taylor remains adamant about her decision.
"I want to get to a point that we get the same respect as four-man bobsled." she says. "We have to continue to make sure we have competitive women’s races — that’s what it will take to make it more exciting."
Meyers Taylor also credits her husband with motivating her to become a trailblazer in the sport. Competing together has not only helped the two grow as a couple, but also as athletes. Meyers Taylor told Bustle that Taylor does absolutely everything that he can to help her push the envelope as a competitor and ensure that she performs to the best of her abilities. "There's nothing love can't overcome," Meyers Taylor says. "Between navigating obstacles as a couple and figuring out the bobsled thing, there’s nothing we can’t do!"
Still, Meyers Taylor acknowledges that when it comes to the world of bobsledding, not all countries have as progressive an outlook as the United States. Internationally, the sport is not nearly as respected as 4-man bobsledding, and the competitions are not as big or popular.
"I love what I do and I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to do it in the U.S." There are, however, some advantages: as a mixed team competitor, Meyers Taylor starts off in a larger sled, and the 4-man makes driving easier. "Four-man is closer to driving a semi-automatic truck and two-man is like driving a sports car," she says.
Overcoming A Career-Ending Setback
It hasn't all been smooth sledding — in 2015, Meyers Taylor suffered a concussion that nearly ended her career. While recovering, she was shocked to discover that there was not a lot of research on women's brains. According to Meyers Taylor, for every 500 brains donated to research facilities, only 10 were women's brains, even though women are more likely to suffer concussions. It was this revelation that drove her recent decision pledge to donate her brain to CTE research.
"I want show people that you can overcome a concussion." she tells Bustle. "I want to inspire people and show that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel." Meyers Taylor also emphasized that in order heal properly, you must be willing to ask for help. After all, no victory can't happen in a vacuum.
Back on her feet, and more determined than ever, Meyers Taylor has partnered with Procter & Gamble to promote love over bias. It's campaign, titled "Thank you, Mom", transcends sports and preaches support, compassion, and collaboration.
"Day in and day out, people are told they shouldn’t be able to do things based on their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation," Meyers Taylor tells Bustle. "I’m so happy to be part of a campaign that’s working to prove those things wrong."
Through her work in and out of the sled, Meyers Taylor is breaking gender norms every day. Through her passion for the sport, and her conviction throughout her career, she is inspiring women across the globe to not only compete, but to pioneer.