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One Luge Success
Jill Lieber
January 27, 1988
Bonny Warner faced a lot of very tough sledding, but now she could become America's first medal-winner
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January 27, 1988

One Luge Success

Bonny Warner faced a lot of very tough sledding, but now she could become America's first medal-winner

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But her most important contributions have been the clinics through which she has introduced more than a thousand newcomers to the sport. She holds them in Palo Alto, near Stanford University, her alma mater. Each summer for the past four years, neophyte lugers, ranging in age from 7 to 51, have careened down a hilly street in Palo Alto on roller sleds, picking up the fine points of the sport. "Once I get them on a roller sled." she says, "they're hooked."

Warner's students are members of the Western States Luge Club. As the club's founder and president, Warner collects dues and designs club T-shirts and jackets. "Luge is so incredibly important in my life," she says. "Deep down I guess the real reason I started the clinics was because I didn't have anybody to share luge with."

Perhaps Warner was also looking for someone to take care of. She refers to herself as the club's den mother and makes no secret of her strong maternal instincts. She has had lots of practice in nurturing. Her parents were divorced when she was 4, and when she was 13, her mother. Joy, moved into a residential hospital because of a back problem. For almost two years Warner raised her brothers—Robbie and Brendy, two and nine years her junior, respectively—doing the cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping. She was allowed to sign checks drawn on her mother's bank account and, at 14, obtained a special driver's license so she could haul her brothers to and from school. "The real power," Warner says now, "was in writing excuses [for absences) from school."

Though the responsibility forced her to grow up quickly, it also made her feel socially awkward among her peers, something she has not yet overcome. She was too busy to go on dates and missed her high school prom. She had no clue about makeup, perfume or the latest hairdo, and new dresses weren't in the budget.

"I was different from the other kids," Warner says. "I didn't fit in. I got good grades, but I tried to play them down. I didn't wear nice clothes. I needed my mother to tell me how to act like a girl, and she wasn't around. I used to cry myself to sleep, wondering what was wrong with me."

Her good grades, however, got her admitted to Stanford. Some good luck got her to Lake Placid. She won a contest to select California's representative in the relay that transported the Olympic flame to the 1980 Winter Games. The flame was flown from Olympia. Greece, to Virginia, and then 50 runners, one from each state, carried it to Lake Placid, covering 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in nine days.

Warner took a quarter off from school and spent two weeks in Lake Placid with free room and board and unlimited access to Olympic events. Luge was the one competition she didn't see. When the Games were over, a fellow torch-bearer dared Warner to join in a clinic that the U.S. Luge Association was sponsoring on the Lake Placid run. "I'd seen bobsled and loved it, so I thought I'd give luge a try," Warner says.

Dressed in a jogging suit taped at the ankles, and with hockey pads stuffed in the sleeves, she took her first ride. She began at the tourist start, just four curves and about 200 meters from the bottom of the 750-meter track. It was a short, sweet, 10-mph trip. "I banged a lot of walls," she remembers. "You've got to be sturdy for this sport, and I'm about as sturdy as they come."

That one ride did it. Warner had to have a sled. She spent two weeks working as a maid at a Lake Placid hotel, selling Olympic pins and making sandwiches at Captain Billy's Whizz Bang Deli to pay the $500 for a racing sled. That summer she talked her way into the Squaw Valley Olympic Training Center and begged Steve Mannix, an ex-luger, to train with her.

In the fall, her luck with contests struck again. She won $5,000 when her name was drawn from among 1.8 million entries in a contest sponsored by Levi's jeans. "A few months earlier I'd stuffed the ballot box at the mall [in Lake Placid]." she says. So Warner quit the Stanford field hockey team—she had been a goalkeeper her first year—and dropped out of school for two quarters. Then she bought an airline ticket to Europe, where she hoped to train that winter. "I had to see how good I could get." she says. "I was obsessed."

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