UI track and field champion Lake Kwaza is chasing Olympic dreams, this time in a bobsled

From left, driver/pilot Nicole Voft, rookie Lake Kwaza, rookie Nicole Brungardt and driver/pilot Kristi Koplin. — photo courtesy of USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation

What do you do if you are a school record holder, Big 10 champion and an All-American in track and field, still have that urge to compete after graduating from college but are uncertain about switching sports? Well, if you are 2016 University of Iowa graduate Lake Kwaza, you turn down an offer from one of the U.S. Bobsled coaches, and when he calls you back a year later you answer him with a resounding, ‘Yes!’

Right after the 2016 track and field Olympic trials, Kwaza said she received an email from Michael Dionne, one of the coaches with USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

“The email was an introduction of himself and a very brief description of bobsled. I emailed him back and the next thing you know I am on the phone getting the full scoop about what bobsled is and how I had the accolades to become a bobsled athlete,” she said. “I was very intrigued about the sport but I wasn’t ready to give up track and the other commitments that I made going into the 2017 school year, so I kindly declined the offer and told Coach Dionne to keep my contact information and maybe I’ll be more willing to try it the next year.”

One year later she received a call.

“I was very excited that he remembered after a year and contacted me. I thought if a coach or anyone can remember something like this a year later then I should give them a chance and see what they are talking about,” Kwaza said.

The 2016 Big 10 60-meter dash champion, and school record holder in both the 60 and as a member of the 400-meter relay, is doing her strength and conditioning training in Iowa City, with her Hawkeye coaches, but does bobsled training in Lake Placid, New York.

“Bobsled is a speed and power sport and so is sprinting,” Kwaza said. “Luckily, I was just that, a sprinter, which meant my training changed very little.”

Lake Kwaza (L) running for Iowa Track and Field. — photo courtesy of UI Sports Information

She said she was lucky that her college coaches — sprints coach Clive Roberts and strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist Landon Evans — continued working with her.

“[They] were both excited and eager to continue to work with me as a post colligate,” she said. “Neither of them have a background in bobsled, but both did their own research about the sport and have been able to create a program that fits me as a bobsled athlete.”

She spend about three to four months in New York, where she can stay at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid and has access to the bobsled track on Mt. Van Hoevenberg. The rest of the time, the Sycamore, Illinois native is here in Iowa City training.

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games will be held for 17 days, Feb. 9-25, in PyeongChang, in Gangwon Province, South Korea. It’s the first time the Olympic games will be held in Korea since the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, nearly 30 years ago. PyeongChang will be the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies and most snow sports. Alpine speed events will take place in Jeongseon, and all ice sports will be in the coastal city of Gangneung.

There are nine women currently on the U.S. National Team, three drivers/pilots and six brakemen/push athletes; they are currently competing on the World Cup circuit. Developing athletes, like Kwaza, are competing in the North American Cup and are also vying for the four to six spots on the U.S. team that will compete in South Korea, Feb. 20 and 21.

The maximum number of athletes who can qualify for the Olympics, in the bobsled, is six women and 18 men. The women have only two-man sleds whereas the men have two-man and four-man sleds, meaning more men can qualify. Each nation has the chance to qualify two women’s sleds and a few may qualify three. That will determine if a country takes four or six women. The qualifications are dependent on the world rankings in January, just one month before the Olympics begin.

Lake Kwaza (R) during her recent race in Calgary. — photo by Ron LeBlanc

Once it has been decided, by the rankings, if the U.S. will take two or three women’s teams, the final teams will be decided by the coaches, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation committee and the pilots.

So far, Kwaza has been able to race in Calgary, Canada, where she and Kristi Koplin placed second and she and Nicole Vogt finished fourth. She has also spent time in Park City, Utah, attending driving school.

Her next race will be in January, in Lake Placid.

Kwaza has set up a Go Fund Me page, because U.S. bobsledding is self-funded unless athletes are on the U.S. national team or have sponsors. Kwaza pays for her own travel, meals and anything else that comes along. Follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook @lakekwaza.

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