Brian Shimer grew up an outcast in Naples, Florida, ridiculed and ridden mercilessly by unfeeling brutes because he harbored a special dream: To one day pilot a U.S. bobsled team in the Olympic Games. Ignored when it came time to choose up sides in dodgeball, a heartbroken Brian retreated into himself. Yes, young Brian was a loner, but his dream never died: Some day, one day, I will show those little twits.
OK, OK, just kidding. Shimer did grow up in Naples. But the word bobsled didn't factor into his consciousness until after college. And, like each of his Florida-born, bobsled-pilot forebears, he owes his involvement with the winter sport to ... football.
Shimer was a running back and wide receiver while he a student at Morehead State University. After he graduated, he received a call from Rocky Alt, a former coach of his, who had been contacted by the U.S. Bobsled Federation. The U.S. team was searching for potential recruits and Alt, in turn, thought of Shimer. "I got this letter and thought, 'What is bobsledding?'" says Shimer. From those humble beginnings, medal hopes were born.
The U.S. hasn't won an Olympic bobsled medal since 1956. It hasn't won gold since 1948. But in Shimer's short term as pilot of both the U.S.'s two- and four-man sleds, the U.S. program has been returned to respectability. In 1993, Shimer and crew earned a bronze in the four-man at the world championships. In 1997, he steered the two-man to a third-place finish and a fifth-place finish in the four-man in the season-long World Cup. The U.S. also took bronze in both events at the World Championship.
But Shimer's story isn't exclusively rags-to-riches. Each of his successes can be tempered with a failure. Coming off that bronze medal performance at the worlds in 1993, the Americans had high hopes in Lillehammer. But when a member of Shimer's support crew let the runners of the four-man sled get too warm, a rule violation, the team was disqualified. And after trying to replace Randy Jones, his partner in the two-man, a request that was denied when Jones protested, Shimer and Jones finished a disappointing 13th.
At the 1995 world championships, Shimer dropped a sled on his right foot and broke a toe, forcing him to withdraw from the four-man. "I respect the Americans and Shimer a lot," says 1996 double world champion Christoph Langen of Germany, "Even with all their setbacks, they continue to go their own way. They will be dangerous."
Despite his late introduction to the sport, Shimer is a dedicated, almost maniacal convert. Bear in mind, this is a guy who borrowed $21,000 from a friend to buy a used bobsled-and then convinced his dad to take out a second mortgage so that he could repay the first loan. And this is a guy who dumped a girlfriend in favor of the sport. "I mean, I loved her," he says. "But I really love bobsledding."
In other words, if things don't go his way in 1998, chances are good he'll be around to see that they do in 2002.
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