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The Odd Coupling
Grant Wahl
October 20, 1997
When Jamaican bobsledders sought a sponsor, Evanston, Wyo., signed on
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October 20, 1997

The Odd Coupling

When Jamaican bobsledders sought a sponsor, Evanston, Wyo., signed on

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"It's tough," says Robinson, 29, a radiology student at the University of the West Indies and a member of the '92 Olympic-team. "We train every morning and afternoon, and by the time we get home from work, we're so tired we can barely look at the television before going to bed. Sometimes we stay late and don't get home until one in the morning."

Harris has his own stories from the road to tell. "I don't trust dogs," he says on his ninth delivery one night, his low-fuel light flashing and a fuzzy country station crackling on the radio. ("Reggae isn't much of an option here," he points out.) "Yesterday I delivered to a house that had three dogs, and one of them chased me and nipped me in the butt." Even when deliveries go right, they might turn into long autograph sessions. More than a few customers ask for one of the Jamaicans when making a delivery order.

"They've had to put up with a lot of local yokels like us," says Leslie McMahon, who owns a photography studio in Evanston. She has come to the high school track to take pictures of the team practicing with its new pushcart, which was built by five welders from the nearby state hospital who donated it to the cause. "People like to be around them, and we don't ever get celebrities to come here," she explains. "I've been here 13 years, and about the most famous folks we've had were a group of skinheads and Klansmen we had to run out of town a few years ago."

Although there were only 25 blacks counted among Uinta County's 18,278 residents in the last census, the Jamaican bobsledders say they haven't encountered any animosity. "Everyone has been very friendly here," says Morris. "Our arms get tired from waving to people all the time when we go on runs."

"We feel bad sometimes," laments Robinson, "because we've turned down so many invitations to lunch and dinner. But we have to train." He means it. One of those spurned offers came from a Jamaican woman living 100 miles down the road in Rock Springs, Wyo., a chemical engineer by the name of Barb Ewing. Patrick's sister.

In the meantime, Evanston, with one eye toward 2002, has begun a campaign to woo other foreign bobsled teams to use the town as a training site. Plans have been made to construct a $100,000 push-start facility, and in June the Chamber of Commerce sent letters to 50 bobsled federations with one simple question: If we build it, will you come? So far, 10 countries have responded, eight positively (including Argentina, Mexico and the Netherlands) and two negatively ( Germany and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Evanston also has a Web site (www.bobsledcity.org).

The Jamaicans left Wyoming last week, as planned, but with no sled and with no secure funding source for the future. "Apart from our sheer determination to keep going, the most important factor in our being in Evanston has been the goodwill of the people," says Harris. "There might have been another way for us to be able to train together, but I can't imagine one." Jamaica II's plans for the 1997-98 bobsled season remain uncertain. "I was sure we would have gotten a sponsor," says Harris. "I can't count how many proposals I've sent out." He is still trying to raise enough money to compete this winter on the World Cup circuit in Europe, which would help the two-man team qualify for the Olympics.

Whether or not Jamaica II makes it to Nagano, Harris calls his first training season in Evanston "a precursor to 2002," and he plans on staying in the sport until then. If he does, there will be at least one payoff. As John Edwards, an Evanston bookstore owner, puts it, "When these guys go down the run in 2002, they're going to have a whole town there cheering for them."

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