'Skeletonman' has sights set on Olympics
Kingman high sophomore catches sliding bug
KINGMAN - Ask high school students what they want to do in the future, and they'll tell you they want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. But not Chris Novak. The 16-year-old sophomore at Kingman High wants to be a slider.
After watching the Winter Olympics with his father, Lee, Chris decided he wants to sprint 30 meters while pushing a sled, then hop onto the sled head first and slide down a track at speeds of 80 mph at around 5 G-forces. It's called skeleton, and it's what Chris wants to do.
Skeleton was an Olympic sport in 1928 and 1942 and became a permanent fixture in 2002. There are only 16 tracks available worldwide, and two in the U.S.; one in Park City, Utah, and the other in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Soon after the Winter Olympics ended in February, Chris and Lee began researching what it would take for Chris to become a slider.
"I saw I had some of the requirements by having run track, played soccer and lifted weights," Chris said. "This kind of experience made me say I want to try it."
The Novaks moved fast to get all the paperwork completed, and Chris attended the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation's Recruitment Camp April 5-9 in Lake Placid under the direction of development coach Don Hass. Before leaving for camp, Chris had to clear some hurdles at KHS about taking a week off from school.
"I thought I'd have a hard time with school," he said. "But my teachers told me not to worry about taking work with me. They were actually psyched for me. They call me Skeletonman now."
Part of the requirements is scoring well on the federation's combine, which includes speed measurements from 15- to 60-meter dashes, as well as the broad jump, shot toss and strength tests in clean and squat. Chris, who is 5-feet-7-inches and 165 pounds, is at the developmental level, which is just one level shy from entering competitions.
In the mornings, Chris and the other potential sliders walked up the track in spikes. They were shown where the turns were and how to make them. Making turns seems difficult with the lack of a steering mechanism on the sleds. "Your head and shoulders control the sled," Chris said. "It's all based on feeling."
At the camp, Chris showed he could take advantage of the learning curve.
He finished fifth out of eight sliders on the first of five runs from Level 3, the second lowest of four levels. He sped down the track at 56.4 mph without banging into the walls.
"The people who hit the wall had bruises on their shoulders from doing so," he said. "But I didn't have any."
The last night at camp, the track melted, and Chris was given the opportunity to stay an extra day to make up for it.
It cost Lee some extra money because Chris' flight home had to be rescheduled, but they both were happy he stayed.
"Those time sheets made it worth the extra couple hundred of bucks," Lee said. The track was bumpy after it was refrozen, but Chris didn't mind.
"I hit a bump at one point and got air between myself and the sled," he said.
"It felt like a crazy roller-coaster ride."
Chris improved his time to 57.65 mph on his last run when he took second. It was when he returned home he realized there was something about skeleton he didn't like after he spoke with his mother, Melanie Munez, from camp. "I don't like being home already," he said.
"My mom would ask when I was there if I was ready to come home. I told her no, I want to stay."
After successfully completing the recruitment camp, Chris is ready to take the next step. In July, he'll be at the Push Track Training Camp in Park City where he'll learn to get an edge during the 30 meters he has to sprint before hopping on the sled. There's only one direction to go in skeleton, and that's down.
But it's the direction that has Lee excited.
"As his dad, I've never seen him so fired up about something," he said.
"I'm thrilled to see him in love with something. He's even running in the mornings, which he's never done before."