Skeleton racer

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NEW GLOUCESTER – High school and college are supposed to provide direction in life.

But not many students have found as much inspiration, in such a non-traditional fashion, as Sherri Emery.

Emery was a Gray-New Gloucester High School senior with a budding interest in exercise science when she mailed a few letters and made a flurry of phone calls to meet the demands of a project in 2008.

“We had to interview someone who could give us information about our subject, so I called the Lake Placid Olympic training center and found out about the recruiting process for skeleton,” Emery said. “I was a sprinter in high school. I found out that they were always looking for people with a sprinting background. I said ‘I’d love to do this.’ ”

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For most of us, those are idle words. We’d love to quarterback an NFL team, love to wheel a stock car at 200 mph, love to run a marathon. Usually we run out of talent or the logistics get in the way before the words even have a chance to vanish into thin air.

Turns out Emery picked a passion with potential.

She also chose a college, SUNY Plattsburgh, within shouting distance of Lake Placid. Known worldwide as site of the 1980 Olympics, it’s now a developmental Mecca for athletes aspiring to compete in future games.

Two winters later, Emery might be on her way.

Emery pocketed a pair of silver medals in skeleton within the last month. She was second at the Empire State Games in February, then runner-up again in March at the Eastern Regional championships in Lake Placid.

The latter was a qualifying event for the national team trials in October. Emery’s emergence puts her on the fast track to a spot in the U.S. team’s preparatory program.

“It’s a combination of two races, one in Lake Placid and one in Salt Lake City,” Emery said. “Depending on how you place, you get a national ranking. I don’t really have a national ranking right now. I’ve been competing in a lot of local races.”

Skeleton — essentially face-down, belly-first tobogganing — has been around since the Swiss developed it in the late 1800s.

An off-and-on Olympic sport in the early years, skeleton has enjoyed a resurgence as the Games have opened their gates to new, edgier sports.

Races are contested on the same narrow, icy course as bobsled and luge. Speeds can exceed 70 mph.

“It’s something I can’t really explain to you until you’ve tried it yourself,” said Emery. “It’s a blast. You get to push yourself and train yourself and see if you can go faster. There are different zones on the track, and you have to find the one where you’re going to be the fastest. If you think too much, it slows you down. You have to relax and find the place that works for you.”

After graduating from G-NG in June 2008 and relocating to New York, Emery attended a training camp in October.

Her first competition was in January 2009.

Prior to that, Emery’s athletic experiences were relatively limited. She competed in indoor and outdoor track.

“I never quite made it to states. That was always my goal,” she said. “I also played a lot of tennis with my dad.”

The 2006 Turin Olympics planted the skeleton seed in Emery’s mind, but she didn’t officially catch the fever until donning the requisite helmet, speed suit and spiked shoes for the first time.

Living in upstate New York has immersed Emery in the winter sports culture. She recently learned to snowboard at Whiteface, the neighboring competition hill in Lake Placid.

After a brief return home for spring break, Emery is completing her second year of study in Plattsburgh’s fitness and wellness leadership program. She’ll focus on strength and dry land training during the seven-month off-season.

“It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” Emery said. “The people I’m training with are great people, wonderful people who are willing to help you no matter what.”

 koakes@sunjournal.com

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