Nicole Brungardt wasn’t going to let fear keep her from trying out again for the U.S. national bobsled team.
A bad concussion in the first training slide of 2019 left her wondering about her future in the sport. She landed on her head in a crash, causing dizziness and anxiety. It knocked her out for the season.
So instead of competing, the 30-year-old returned to Omaha. The former Wayne State volleyball player works as a contract engineer and at Starbucks, which, as an elite athlete, also provides her a monthly stipend.
Both jobs give her the flexibility she needs to train and compete, though at times she wondered if she wanted to continue.
“All I could think about was the last time I was in the sled,” she said. “It was the worst experience ever.”
But Brungardt recently returned to Lake Placid, New York, for tryouts. It took one run to change her entire perspective. And when she earned a spot on the 10-person team as a brakeman, she was ecstatic.
“Once I started sliding again, my passion came back again,” she said. “I was over the top when I got named to the team.”
After being home for a week, Brungardt is returning to Lake Placid for more training. She has competed for the national team since 2017.
The 2021 season in Europe is still up in the air because of the pandemic. If numbers continue to rise, she doesn’t expect the U.S. team to travel overseas.
This is a crucial season, too, because the next Winter Olympics is in Beijing in 2022. Brungardt, the 2008 World-Herald girls athlete of the year, will have to try out again next year, too.
Whatever happens, she’s just glad that she didn’t let the crash and all of its complications end her bobsled career.
“I just felt like God had opened this door for me. It had been so amazing,” she said. “I do love it and everything it has brought. I was scared of crashing again. I was afraid of getting dizzy. I was afraid of taking a year off.
“But I’m going to do it until the doors close.”