• MINDSET

    Josh Williamson Will Find the Next Olympic Hopeful in You

    By Robin Rootenberg

Josh Williamson says he’s “that guy”: Sure, the 21-year-old member of Team USA Bobsled will hang out and maybe even have a beer, but, he says, “I’ve always known that I’d rather be in the gym … I loved spending time with [friends], but I liked eating right.”

Williamson was a high-school football and college lacrosse player (and bobsled fan), but he never assumed his passion for athletics and his work ethic would lead to a competitive career. “I always liked being the guy who was working hard in the corner—you didn’t have to know [I] was there, but you knew [I was doing] my job.”

Then he tried out for the United States Olympic Committee’s “Scouting Camp: Next Olympic Hopeful” on a whim, last summer. Within six months, he was competing internationally—and not with just any team, but with his dream team: Team USA Bobsled.

The excitement is also a lot to process, and for Williamson, “The biggest thing that’s changed is I’ve realized that I was right.” He continues with deep conviction: “What I thought was true about myself was true … and at the end of the day, what you want to be is what you can be.”

Pushing the team’s dreams

A bobsled run is 60 seconds, and teams get four runs in competition. Williamson is responsible for starting the sled: pushing as hard as he can to get the driver off as quickly as possible. A fully loaded, four-man sled can weigh up to 1,390 pounds. He calculates that he has five seconds at the start of each run to push his best and a total of 20 seconds to do his part to make—or break—the team’s success.

“A lot of times what motivates me at least is that there’s other guys who have trained as hard or even harder than me and gone through things that I don’t know,” he explains. “This is their dream, too, and it’d be a shame if I hurt their chances of getting their dreams.”

Now, he trains as hard as he can, because “in four years, maybe that’s that hundredth of a second that’s the difference between being on the podium and not getting your medal,” Williamson says. He considers his responsibility not only to himself, but also to “everybody who’s believed in me and all the rest of the country.”

Competing against—and with—his idols

Williamson had always loved the weight-training aspect of football and lacrosse. He followed the feats of impressive lifters on social media—including bobsled athletes. He knew he could match their efforts and found out that the sport required speed, strength and size. Williamson had always been too big to be a competitive runner but says he always loved sprinting and thought bobsled might be a good fit for him—eventually.

When Williamson saw the notice on the USA Bobsled Instagram page for the “Scouting Camp: Next Olympic Hopeful” tryouts at 24 Hour Fitness locations, he casually mentioned to his parents that he was going to the event (and they responded just as casually). But he didn’t tell any friends, because, he says, “at the end of the day, I like just going out and testing myself.”

Shortly after the event, he got the unexpected: an invitation to participate in the finals for Team USA’s “Scouting Camp: Next Olympic Hopeful,” including training and assessment at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, he found himself competing against some of his Instagram heroes—and within a few weeks, Williamson was competing alongside them.

After a dramatic victory in November 2017 at the four-man North American Cup competition, Williamson is especially grateful for the extra time and coaching that his new teammates gave when he wanted to practice more. At his second race ever and with 60 seconds to get into starting position, Williamson discovered the push bar on the sled had frozen. Working frantically in subzero temperatures (and just a speed suit) to chisel the bar loose, Williamson and his team ran out of time. “I had to run with the sled without a handle and then load—my big pushing factor was [just] to get in the sled,” he says.

With that disadvantage, Williamson and his teammates thought they would come in last, they came in third in the first heat and then drove to victory thanks to “a great push and a great drive” in the second heat. “I’m glad I could hold my end of the bargain up,” he says. “That was my biggest worry—I know they were good enough, but I wanted to make sure I was good enough.”

“The worst they can say is ‘no’”

As walking proof of the misconception that all Olympic athletes have been training and competing in their sports since childhood, Williamson wants would-be contenders to understand that it’s not too late to pursue their Olympic aspirations. “Maybe after college it didn’t pan out to go professional, but they’re really good athletes and they’d still like to compete,” he says. “This is an option they [might not] know existed.”

Fast-forward a year and Williamson is just as passionate about helping other prospective Team USA athletes discover their potential. He says that it simply took showing up at the “Scouting Camp: Next Olympic Hopeful” tryouts without knowing if he really had what it takes be an Olympic athlete or even expecting do well. “[Just taking] that leap of faith that I’m just going to go try it. The worst they can say is, ‘No.’”

Williamson’s Wisdom

Want to take a page from Josh Williamson’s playbook, for competition or just feeling great? Here are his tips.

No music when training, especially during warm-up. “I usually don’t listen to music. … It helps me listen to my body and I never want to rely on music as a crutch,” he says. When he isn’t training? “The top of my playlist would definitely have to be ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Every time when I warm up, I have to listen to that song a couple of times.”

Take your time warming up. Williamson skips and jogs followed by dynamic stretching and movement in preparation for the hard, quick sprinting movement in his workout. Williamson makes sure to foam roll, and he spends 10 seconds on hot spots as he gradually works his way from head to toe.

Stay present in your workout. Williamson tries not to think about whether it’s going to be a hard workout or his next set. “I go in and say, OK, what do I have to do? I have to do my laps to warm up. … Now I have to do the stretches,” he explains. “With any coaching cue I’m given, I’m trying to listen to how my body feels, and if I do it right, the way I remember [the cue] is how it felt.”

Take your time cooling down. “If I’m really beat up, then I have to spend even more time that day recovering from it, to make sure I get the most out of tomorrow’s workout,” he says. Williamson takes 10 or 15 minutes to foam-roll, spending a full minute or longer on tight spots. Even if he’s “sitting around,” feeling stressed out can impact his recovery, so yoga and breathing exercises help him get more out of the next day.

Always preparing for that next training session. “When I’m in the gym, I’m getting the most out of my body, and when I’m out of the gym, I’m preparing myself to get the most out of my body tomorrow,” Williamson says. “It can be something as simple as eating right after my workout or waiting too long to eat. That the next day I’ll be a little bit sore and I won’t get as much as I would have if I did everything perfectly.”

Body positivity is about your practice, not your appearance. “The weight plates don’t have an opinion of what you look like or who you are or who you’re not.” Williamson says focusing on your individual practice and progress fosters confidence that comes from within. “It’s a challenge to yourself—it’s kind of a shame if you go your whole life without seeing what you’re capable of.”

Be true to yourself and you can finish first. “I’d rather not be the guy who’s out in front of everybody,” he explains. “I’d rather be the guy who’s working hard and who was the push athlete who made it possible for that driver to win that medal. Being a background guy is something that I really strive to be.”

Photo credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Grooming, Katie Nash, katienashbeauty.com

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Author

Robin Rootenberg

Robin Rootenberg is managing editor for 24Life and 24Life TV. Nothing makes her happier than the possibility of one more person rediscovering the joy of movement, or trying something new. (Remember what it felt like to just run when you were a kid? Or the surprise of your first kumquat?) A UC Berkeley grad, her writing and communications career spans more than two decades, and she’s been running for even longer.

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