Sept. 14, 2010
From one track to another
By David Boyce
The feeling of an athletic career concluding didn't immediately hit Emily Churchman on May 28.
She walked off the track in Charlotte, N.C., with a sense of satisfaction that hard work paid off.
Churchman scored a school record 5,116 points in the heptathlon in the NCAA Division II track and field national championships, which was good enough for ninth place.
Hard work took Churchman places that Northwest Missouri State coach Scott Lorek had a hard time imagining when he recruited her out of Park Hill South five years ago.
"She was a good high school athlete," he said, "but not these kinds of marks, not these kinds of things.
"She holds the school record in the long jump. I've had a lot of hard workers and dedicated people, but she could be the No. 1 person in effort."
So what does an athlete in her early 20s do to feed the competitive fire once the college career is over just as you hit your athletic prime years?
For Churchman, it's attempting to become a member of the United States bobsled team.
She travels to Lake Placid on Sept. 20 for her third round of tryouts. She will be there for six days. It makes for a very busy September for Churchman, who is back at Northwest as a graduate assistant for the track program.
"I think now that I've gotten this far there is more pressure," Churchman said. "It will be a really awesome experience regardless of what happens."
The journey from track athlete to bobsled is interesting to say the least. Lorek still isn't quite sure how it happened.
Even Churchman's parents were a bit skeptical when she told them of her summer plans.
"Whatever, Emily," said Churchman of her parents' initial reaction.
It all goes back to Churchman finding something to fill the athletic void that track had occupied for so long.
"Competing, I definitely enjoy competing," she said.
"It didn't really hit me until I came back here and you realize you are done. It is kind of overwhelming because you are so used to competing during your whole life. You are always involved in stuff and then you are done."
Fortunately for Churchman she received a Facebook message from Elana Meyers soon after the national track meet that congratulated her for her result at nationals.
Meyers, who won a bronze medal with Erin Pac in the two-women bobsled event in the 2010 Winter Olympics, also asked Churchman what she was now training for.
Churchman really didn't know. She planned to keep working out, but for what. Meyers suggested bobsledding.
"The first time I saw it I thought it was a joke," Churchman said.
Meyers was serious.
"She's converting to be a driver because she was a brakeman last year," Churchman said. "She told me about the tryout process and asked if I was interested. I started talking to the bobsled coach and it went from there."
Churchman went to Tulsa for the first round of testing with about 20 other women. Churchman and another woman from that group advanced to the second round in the middle of July, which was also in Tulsa.
Again Churchman scored well enough to move to the third round that will be held in Lake Placid, the site of the 1980 Olympics where the "Miracle on Ice" took place.
Churchman was years away from being born to witness what took place at Lake Placid, but that moment was so great that most athletes in their early 20s know about the "Miracle on Ice."
"I told her if she has a chance to pursue something like this, an Olympic kind of thing, to go for it," Lorek said. "We will work around the grad assistant. We will figure something out."
With each step Churchman has taken to reach the third round, the more serious she has become to be part of the bobsled team.
"At first it was this will give me something to train for," she said. "It is a neat opportunity and then I made it further than I thought I was going to."
And now she's going for it.
Some of the testing consists of standing long jump, 45-meter sprints and shot toss.
"I think it is a fit for her," Lorek said. "She's very strong and she's very fast. It sounds like two of the key components in bobsled. I don't know if she has enough winter clothes for it."
Churchman doesn't have to worry about cold weather just yet. She will be among 10 rookies trying to impress the veteran bobsled drivers.
They will train for a couple of days and then go through testing.
"If you don't score over 600 points you are done and they will fly you home," Churchman said.
She hopes she is there for all six days.
"The girls who are drivers will pick who they want as their breakmen. It is largely up to them," she said.
Whatever happens, Churchman will be back in Maryville at the end of September pursuing her Masters in Health Science and being a graduate assistant for Lorek.
"Track, a lot of it is mental," Churchman said. "You go through such tough workouts, especially the jumps. There is so much technique that goes into it. I hope I can help the girls like the coaches here have helped me."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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