While most spend their summers traveling, relaxing, and spending time with family, Castleton graduate Ryan Sweeney does the opposite. Working 50-70 hours a weeks might not seem the least bit appealing to others, especially during the summer, but to Sweeney, it’s all worth it.
Sweeney participates in skeleton racing, a sport that most people would probably never consider because you’re lunging your body, head first, down a racecourse at anywhere between 65 to 80 mph.
In skeleton racing, you begin with a push-start, sprinting as fast as you can for about 30 yards. You jump onto your sled and very gently start the course. You direct the sled with slight head movements called head steers, shoulder steers, knee steers, and foot steers.
“I’m more of a shoulder steerer, sometimes a toe steerer,” Sweeney explained.
Sweeney most recently returned from Austria in the end of January, where he claims he didn’t do so well.
He finished 17th out of 24 racers, competing against world cup sliders.
“They were just on a higher level than I was, they’ve raced a lot more courses,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney graduated from Castleton with an exercise science degree in 2010. Since then, he has put off attending graduate school.
“I had to make the decision between continuing to slide and going to grad-school,” said Sweeney. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I enjoy it so much that I’ll see where it takes me.”
Back in high school, Sweeney attended Whitehall High School in Whitehall, N.Y. There he competed in the school’s junior bobsled program.
His two younger sisters, Olivia and Emily also participated. In high school, he competed in the Empire State Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. He won gold in junior bobsled two years in a row. However, it wasn’t until 2009, his junior year of college, that he got interested in skeleton racing.
“My mom made me go watch my sisters’ races once. She asked me how I liked it, and I told her I’d much rather try doing it than watching it,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s sisters have since then taken a break from racing, but his youngest brother Noah has just gotten started.
“I saw Jimmy Shea for the first time, and I said, ‘Oh my god. That guy is crazy!” said Sweeney’s mother Andrea, in a previous interview with Michael Bonner of the Post Star, “Who would go down a sled head first? Lo and behold, I have three kids doing it,” said Andrea Sweeney.
While the sport of skeleton racing seems extremely dangerous, Sweeney said he has never taken a serious crash.
“It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s not something you can get anywhere else,” said Sweeney. “They say the closest feeling is sky diving. It clicks with me.”
Skeleton racing is also a very costly sport. This year alone, Sweeney has purchased a new helmet, two pairs of runners, and push-spikes, which are specifically designed to run on the ice. He also paid off a previously purchased sled. Also, every time he participates in a race, he must pay a race fee for each individual race, and pay for his hotel and flights if necessary. In order to pay for all of this, Sweeney works two jobs.
“I gave up a lot of opportunities for this summer, not enjoying it, not being able to do what I wanted to do, but I knew I was working for a purpose, and I couldn’t let that go,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney is currently accepting donations, but wants to make some sort of name for himself before he starts begging for money, he says. So far in the 2011-2012 season, Sweeney was seventh in Park City, 13th in Park City, sixth in Calgary (twice), 13th in Lake Placid, and 12th in Lake Placid.
As far as his future goes, he says that going to the 2014 Olympics would be nice, but there are a lot of other sliders who have slid on tracks he has yet to race on, so they are much better than he is.
However, the 2018 Olympics in South Korea are a possibility.
Next year, there are four tours, the World Cup, which has the top three sliders, who are all fully-funded, the ICC, which are the next three placed sliders, who are partially funded, the Europa Cup, all in Europe, and America’s cup, which he has previously participated in.
“As far as this year goes, it’s the national championships in Lake Placid in March, then it’s the start to the offseason all over again,” Sweeney said. “[That’s when] I’m back to working to pay for sliding.”