An Interview with Lauryn Williams

AFM interviews the first American woman to medal in both summer and winter Olympics.

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Competing in an Olympic sport takes strength, discipline, and talent. Competing in sports in both the Summer and Winter Games takes even more, and is exactly what sprinter and bobsledder Lauryn Williams displayed at the Sochi Games this year when she became the first American woman to medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Williams is just the fifth person ever to medal in both Summer and Winter Olympics, and the second American to do so since Eddie Eagan medaled in boxing (1920) and bobsled (1932). With a silver medal in the 2004 100-meter dash and a gold medal in the 2012 4x100 relay, Williams’ silver for the two-woman bobsled in 2014 adds to an array of awards over her career. In an interview from her home in Dallas, Williams spoke with Austin Fit Magazine about her experience transitioning between sports and her plans for the future.

How did it come to your attention that it was possible for a sprinter to become a bobsledder?

I heard about three other Olympians who gave it a try right after the 2012 games. There was quite a bit of media coverage. So it kind of peaked my interest, you know, how did they find that? And then I ran into Lolo Jones a couple months later. We were both heading to a race. I ran into her in the airport and I just asked her, you know, “I saw it in the newspaper. How do you find bobsled? What’s it like?” And she told me it was amazing, that she’s really enjoying herself, and she plans to work for as long as she can and that I should give it a try because really what they need is powerful athletes.

What excited you about the discipline of bobsledding?

I think it was a real challenge. [That] was the main thing that I was mostly interested in. I wanted to be able to try something different. I knew that I was done with track and field. It’s sprinting on ice. One of the other things that pulled me in was that you could be a little bit heavier and so with track and field I had been struggling a little bit with my weight the last couple years. This sport allows me to be a little bit heavier and as fast as I can at a heavier weight.

When you transitioned your training to bobsled, was there a lot that you had to do differently?

I didn’t do a whole lot differently because in the bobsled, it’s a shorter distance, you know. My training was more like 40 to 60 meters, but it was still track training before the ice opened. Also a lot of weight lifting. It was mostly similar to track and field, with the strength training, and the speed training was more like 40 to 60 meters as opposed to doing 100s, so that was mainly the biggest difference.

What is the type of fitness required to be a bobsledder?

The biggest thing, like I said, is to be powerful. You have to be a lot stronger in bobsled than you do in track and field. There’s a bigger concentration on your strength because your strength can really generate the power you need to move a 400 pound sled out of the way.

Did you find it difficult to transition between sports?

It came pretty easily to me but that was thanks to the girls I was with. And I don’t think I could have done it if there had been a different group of girls. Everyone was so, you know, willing to help me and I think that was one of the main things. It was a steep learning curve, getting out there and having to learn what to do with the sled and just going down the track every day. The part I signed up for was the “run down the ice and jump in” part, but I didn’t know there was so much more that went on behind the scenes that relates to moving your sled, transporting your sled, taking it on and off the truck every day so (that) it’s maintained in between the runs and before the runs. There was a lot of nuts and bolts and stuff like that that I had to learn.

Obviously sprinting is different from the bobsled, so what do the different disciplines mean to you?

I think that the outdoor perspective is a very big thing, hugely because sprinting is a summer sport and bobsled is a winter sport. Your warm up conditions are very different in bobsled where you’re outside. There’s very seldom a facility or anything like that to warm up in. So you’re in the elements, in the snow, in the parking lot, in the gravel, where with track and field, there’s at least a field nearby for the most part and a warm up track or something like that. I think the two biggest differences between summer and winter were actually the elements. I mean, it seems obvious, but when you compare the different elements, it changes drastically.

Now that the Sochi Olympics are over, what are you pursuing now?

I’m looking to my career after athletics. I’m a finance major at the University of Miami. I’ve got a master’s in business, as well, from University of Phoenix, and right now I’m preparing for the CFP exam which is to certify financial planning. So, I’d like to do financial planning, probably for Olympic athletes and maybe a few other people, but I’d like to keep it focused on Olympic athletes.

Is there anything else that you’d like the readers of AFM to know?

I think it’s a really awesome opportunity to be the first American woman to go from summer to winter games and get a medal doing both. I never would have imagined it. What I tell kids and when I’m giving speeches, my motto is “hard work knows no limit.” That means that if you’re working hard towards something, a door will open for you, you know. You have to be pursuing life passionately every day in order for doors to open for you. Of course, I moved to Florida for 12 years. I now live in Texas, and it doesn’t snow in either one of those places, so to find bobsled is not a likely thing, but I did. And I think it’s because I keep my eyes open, and I’m always looking for the next opportunity. I think if people would coach their life passionately, whether they’re always looking for the next opportunity and always working towards something, doors will open for them. 

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