With backpack and sled in tow, Warner traveled to Königssee, West Germany, site of famous bob and luge runs. "On the first day I went to the top," she says. "I was so naive. I slammed face first into the curves three times."
She emerged with cheeks bloodied and elbows raw, but shortly afterward she met Sepp Lenz, the West German national coach and a regular at the track, and he offered to coach her. Two months later Warner entered her first international race and found herself seated in the Königssee start house next to Vera Zozulia of the Soviet Union, the 1980 Olympic gold medalist. "I thought, Wow. I can touch her!" Warner says.
Race organizers insisted that Warner compete as a representative of the U.S. She declined. "I don't even know anyone on the U.S. team." she told them, quite honestly. Eventually she was allowed to enter as an unattached racer. She finished 19th out of 20. The 20th had crashed.
Undiscouraged, Warner returned to Lake Placid in January 1981 and made the U.S. junior team. As luck would have it, a few weeks later she was back at Königssee competing in the Junior World Championships. "Because I had trained on ice for four months," Warner says. "I was ahead of anybody from the U.S." She finished 17th among the 25 lugers, and at the end of the 1980-81 season she was named to the national senior team. The rest is luge history.
Warner's major competition for a medal at Calgary will come from the East German women Steffi Walter and Cerstin Schmidt, both World Cup champions, and Yulia Antipova from the Soviet Union. If she does win a medal, she will be the first American to do so in the 24 years luge has been an Olympic sport. Warner is not disheartened by the odds. To her the sport is more than just medals.
"All my life I've felt like a square peg in a round hole," she says. "And then luge came along. I've always needed to stick out—to be noticed and feel accepted. Luge does that. I'm finally somebody."