LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — After serving as a fire team leader deep in the mountains of Afghanistan and toting an automatic weapon weighing more than 22 pounds when fully loaded with 200 rounds, bobsledding just wasn’t the same anymore for John Napier.
So, nearly two years after that life-changing, five-month stint with the Vermont National Guard in the midst of a foreign war, the No. 2 driver on the U.S. bobsled team behind Steven Holcomb has decided to give up the only life he’s ever known for a chance to become an elite soldier.
Napier told his teammates last week that he was leaving the team to concentrate on becoming a member of a special forces unit with the Army or Navy.
“He’s been talking about it,” Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, said Tuesday. “He had some second thoughts when he first came back. He was trying to figure out if he wanted to go on with the military or jump back into bobsled.
“It wasn’t a big surprise that he finally made the decision and we support that,” Steele said. “We back the guy up. He’s a patriot. We’d love to keep him driving bobsleds, but at the same time we’re building some depth, so we’re going to focus on the next guys in line. We’re ready to go either way.”
The 25-year-old Napier, a member of the Vermont National Guard as a slider, volunteered for the tour in Afghanistan after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics where he drove USA-2 to a 10th-place finish in the two-man race and crashed out of the four-man event.
Napier was deeply affected by his military sojourn. On his second day, he went on a 10-kilometer dismounted movement at 10,000 feet, and on the third day it was 12 kilometers, all the while encountering contact with enemy troops.
“It really did give me some great perspective,” said the 6-foot-4 Napier, who dropped about 30 pounds during his military tour and never regained it all.
Napier’s well-being had been a concern for the federation. Coaches and federation officials wanted to make sure that he wasn’t overwhelmed while getting re-adjusted to normal life, and that he wasn’t dealing with any sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome that many soldiers experience after coming home.
Napier, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., practically grew up on the bobsled track at Mount Van Hoevenberg outside Lake Placid. He has a home on Bobrun Road, which leads to the track, and his late father, Bill, was a bobsledder and also served as president of the federation.
Napier won his only World Cup gold medal in November 2009 in a two-man race on his home track and finished fourth overall in four-man and eighth in two-man on the World Cup circuit in 2009-10. This past World Cup season he never cracked the top 10 in either discipline but did finish sixth in two-man at worlds, an indication he was rounding back into form.
Steele said Nick Cunningham, of Monterey, Calif., and Cory Butner, of Yucapia, Calif., likely will challenge for Napier’s spot on the U.S. team heading to the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Cunningham, who finished ninth in two-man and 13th in four-man as a rookie driver at the world championships in Lake Placid in February, was the overall points leader and the two-man champion in America’s Cup competition, while Butner claimed the four-man title in the lower-tier series.
“They showed a lot of growth last year,” Steele said. “We think Sochi’s going to be a pusher’s track, and they’re pushing drivers. I think we’ll be ready to go with these guys.”MORE IN Sports WireBOSTON — Johnny Boychuk broke a tie midway through the second period, and the Boston Bruins... Full Story
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- MEDIA GALLERY