IMPERIAL (Imperial Republican) - Curt Tomasevicz, two-time Olympic bobsled medalist (2010 and 2014) from Shelby was invited to speak at the “Catechism Kickoff” for Catholic youths in southwest Nebraska Sept. 9.
“You can have plans and goals yourself,” he told the young people gathered in Imperial, “but there’s a good chance they will change,” he said.
Growing up in the small town of Shelby (pop. 690), where he grew to love football, he said he dreamed, like many Nebraska youngsters, of playing for the Big Red.
Football was his favorite sport in high school, but a broken collarbone his senior year dashed his dreams, as no college scholarship offers came.
“I felt athletics was over for me,” he said.
He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to study electrical engineering after receiving a Regent’s Scholarship.
But still desiring to play football, he met with a Husker assistant coach and asked what he had to do to make the team, and learned the university offers a one-day open tryout each year for UNL students.
He attended the open tryout Jan. 15, 2000 with 120 other students as they were tested for speed, agility and jumping. In the vertical jump, he broke the record for fullbacks at the time.
Tomasevicz was one of just three to make the team for the following fall as a running back. However, he soon learned the coaches planned on him as a “scout team” running back, where he stayed his first two years on the team. He saw little game time.
“I had one carry for two yards,” he said. “That’s the only time I was in the game my first two years.”
He switched to linebacker his junior year, but with the likes of Barrett Ruud at the same position, he realized he wasn’t going to play much.
Just as as his Husker football dreams were dashed, he was encouraged by a friend on the track team to consider Olympic bobsledding. The problem, he said, was that it takes money to do that, and he was broke.
But that’s when his hometown got behind him, he said.
A small group in Shelby took on a fundraising event that year. They raised $25,000 in one day, even though only one person in Shelby had even seen a bobsled before, he said.
His teammates from much larger cities in Texas, New York and Utah were happy if their fundraisers tallied $5,000, he said with a smile.
“If you come from a small community, you understand how a community comes together, and how a Nebraska kid could chase a dream,” he said.
He competed in bobsledding in 2004 and made an appearance in the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, followed by a lot of top medal places in America’s Cup races and World Cup competitions.
But his biggest accomplishment came in February 2010 when his team won the Olympic gold medal in the four-man bobsled race in Vancouver. It was the first U.S. gold in the sport in 62 years.
They had entered the Olympics as one of the top two favored teams, but competition in the sledding events got off to a daunting start when a luge rider from the country of Georgia was killed on a practice run the day before opening ceremonies.
Tomasevicz also finished sixth in the two-man bobsled in the 2010 Olympics. He held on to his spot on the U.S. No. 1 bobsled team in 2014, even though he was four years older and his training recoveries were taking longer.
That year, with the Olympics in Russia, where the home team were favorites, he recalled his team’s last heat when they were in contention for the bronze medal with Russia’s No. 2 team.
With a huge crowd comprised of mostly Russians, Tomasevicz said he’ll never forget the dead silence as the U.S. was introduced. Usually, there’s some applause, he said, but not there.
“I looked at my teammates and all had that look” of confidence, he said.
The U.S. did win the bronze, which could still be upgraded to silver, he said, pending outcome of the ongoing investigation into the doping charges against Russia’s No. 1 team that won gold.
As he reflected, Tomasevicz admitted bobsledding is “not a fun sport.” It comes with bad crashes and often, injuries.
He turned to prayer often during those years, he said, but never that his team would win.
“I prayed for myself and for my team to do their best,” he said.
Both during his initial Olympic tryouts and as his bobsledding career ended, he did face fears of change, he said, especially in 2014 when the previous 10 years had been totally committed to bobsledding.
“I’m 33 years old and now what?” he asked himself.
He had no work experience or money, so moved back home with his parents in Shelby.
Prayer helped him get through that time, too, he said, and it eventually led to an invitation from a former UNL professor to speak in his class.
That developed into a fulltime teaching position at UNL, which he continues to hold in the engineering department.
He encouraged the youths at the program to take a step back and let things happen “with God’s guidance.”
Tomasevicz also teaches eighth-grade CCD at North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln.