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At Saranac Lake High, Rushlaw quarterbacked the football team and starred in basketball and baseball. He went to Clarkson College in Potsdam, N.Y. and majored in economics. During his junior year he came home on vacation, and his life was forever changed. "Gil Miron—he was a cop, and a great sledder—asked me one day if I wanted to slide," says Rushlaw. "I guess he heard I was a reckless kid. So I went, and I got hooked. I never went back to Clarkson."
Rushlaw soon began to work his way up the sledding ladder, getting an advanced degree in bob economics by standing on street corners selling tags for the Saranac Lake Bobsled Club. He met Susan Neese at the Dew Drop Inn, where they both worked, and in 1979 she became a bobsled wife. At the '80 Olympics—"it was during the four-mans," she says—she gave birth to Samantha. The child is known as Little S, after a curve in the Mount Van Hoevenberg run.
People who don't know him—heck, even people who do—find it hard to get a handle on Rushlaw. "He's very quiet," says Susan, "but that's because he had a different kind of childhood. That's been a problem a lot of times with sponsors and the newspapers. And he's stubborn. He doesn't bend at times when he should."
Rushlaw is treated with near reverence by many of the other drivers. Switzerland's Erich Scharer, who won the gold in the two-man at the Lake Placid Olympics, says Rushlaw is one of the best natural drivers in the world. Other drivers say he can do wonders by tinkering with a sled, but for all his attention to sled detail and design, he pays scant attention to his own body. "As great a driver as he is," says Cogar, "I just wish he was more of an athlete."
In fact, at his current 195 pounds the 5'10" Rushlaw is in top shape, thanks to the urgings of Tyler, something of a specimen himself. But Rushlaw did bridle at the training regimen set up by Beauvais in Europe. At times Beauvais got the team up to run at 5 a.m. on the day of a race. He had them rolling around in the rain in football drills. They also had an 11 p.m. curfew and a two-beer limit. "The physical shape of some of these guys is a disgrace," says Beauvais. "Why, you or I could beat Rushlaw in the 50-yard dash."
One would think the U.S. Bobsledding Federation would be interested in putting its best sleds forward for the Olympics, but the organization is a morass of politics. Bobsled wars are almost traditional, as power changes hands from one town to another in upstate New York, but this year things have gotten especially ugly. President Al Hachigan of Plattsburgh is suspected by some sledders of lining his own pockets with federation money. Hachigan, in turn, has complained to Essex County authorities that his office has been bugged. Whatever, Hachigan certainly has his favorites, and Hickey and Rushlaw aren't among them. They stand for the past, and the federation sees them as a threat to the future.
But all Rushlaw wants to do right now is get a good sled and slide. And celebrate. One night in Sarajevo, the Italian, British, Canadian and U.S. teams got together for a banquet. There was much laughter and singing, including a splendid rendition of New York, New York by the British. "This is what bobsledding is all about," said Rushlaw. pulling on a beer. "Guys getting together and having a good time. I bet the East Germans are in bed right now."