Carson High grad, Chase Blueberg qualifies for Team USA bobsled after open tryout
After a shoulder injury during college, Chase Blueberg wondered if he was done with athletics.
The 2014 Carson High graduate went on to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves, but opted not to sign in an effort to try to up his draft stock, instead heading to Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
Blueberg ended up tearing the insertion point of his bicep tendon, which he said is known around the baseball world as the “kiss of death.”
After getting in with the Braves’ doctors and being advised to avoid surgery, Blueberg gritted through the injury, but he quickly realized his dreams of playing professional baseball like his brother, who pitches in the Padres organization, and his dad were dashed.
It was one of Blueberg’s friends, Gehrig Tucker, who later turned him onto the idea of trying out for the U.S. bobsled team through open tryouts.
Monday, Blueberg dropped Tucker off at the airport as a member of the USA Bobsled team.
Giving it a shot
Tucker, who left for the military, had explored trying out for the team before approaching Blueberg with the idea.
Before he knew it Blueberg, his girlfriend and a few other friends traveled to Park City, Utah, to test their hand at a sport they’d never even met a participant of.
In his mind, he figured, why not?
“I have a tiny little tendon in my shoulder that’s hurt, but the rest of me still works pretty dang good,” said Blueberg. “So, we just figured, what the heck?”
Through their research beforehand, Blueberg and company knew the open tryout, or combine, was a four-part test set up on a points scale.
To qualify and advance as a push athlete, Blueberg knew he needed to put together 500 points over the course of six events, each event being worth 100 points.
Four of the events came on the track, involving a 45-meter sprint and a 30-meter fly.
The 45-meter sprint was broken up into 15-meter splits before the combine turned to strength where they asked Blueberg to throw a shot put “granny style” and do the broad jump.
In training for the combine and with no track background out of high school, Blueberg said he injured his hamstring trying to hop on the track and sprint without a warmup.
After some rehab and physical therapy, thanks to Tucker’s mother Luan — along with the decision to stop running prior to the combine — Blueberg continued training until early August when he made his trip out to Park City, Utah.
From his prior research, the 23-year-old knew that none of his combine events could be flawed.
“I knew where necessarily where I needed to be. We couldn’t really judge it,” said Blueberg of his sprinting times in practice. “I knew I could jump, I knew I could throw the ball relatively good. … I stepped up to the line and said a little prayer, more so please don’t let my hamstring rip in half, and I took off.”
Through hand-timing, Blueberg stated he was running in the 5.4-second range, but figured he needed to be in the upper 5.3-second range in order to score the most points possible and give himself better odds heading into the other portions of the tryout.
The coaches came out and listed the times – “Blueberg, 5.32.”
“Dang, I was cooking,” thought Blueberg. “Way faster than I anticipated, more so, because I hadn’t run before that. Chalk it up to adrenaline or whatever.”
The sprint time boosted Blueberg’s confidence going into the final two events.
He went on to score 94 points in the shot put toss and jumped over the recommended mark of 10 feet in the broad jump.
“I left there thinking I might be over 500, I might have got it done,” Blueberg said.
The next day, Blueberg woke to his friend telling him he scored a 514, advancing him through his combine.
It turned out Blueberg’s score was the highest of any tryout over the summer.
“It was pretty cool. We didn’t think I was capable of doing that,” said Blueberg.
Blueberg says he’s still impressed by his sprint time because he never had the reputation for being a quick kid.
“I always grew up kind of a strong kid. Never known for speed,” said Blueberg.
From that point, he was told coaches would reach out within the following 24 hours.
Blueberg waited five days before he had to reach out to the coaching staff. The response he got for the delay – a wrong email address.
Next thing he knew, he was on the phone with the coach and director for U.S. bobsled, Michael Dionne.
Dionne told Blueberg his shot toss numbers were indicative of “good bobsled power” and extended an invitation to the bobsled rookie to train at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York.
“They were inviting me for basically the rookie camp,” said Blueberg, who added that his late combine date allowed him to miss the true rookie camp, which put him with a mashup of rookies and members of the U.S. team.
At the training center, Blueberg met high-level collegiate track athletes, wide receivers like Boone Neiderhofer, who caught passes from Johnny Manziel while at Texas A&M, and others.
Blueberg went through two more training tests that were scored on the same 100-point scale and cleared the 700-point threshold needed to earn free living while at the Olympic Training Center, passing the second cut.
From there, Blueberg went through a two-week training course that continued to work his strength and speed.
Most of the practice the Carson High graduate received was on a push track – not on ice.
In fact, even after his two weeks training with Team USA, Blueberg said he still has very little experience in an actual bobsled.
“Very little. For a push athlete it’s kind of a simulation because aside from the first six seconds, the push athletes just ride in the back,” Blueberg said. “You’re going so fast that it’s really about staying tight and trying to not get tossed around too much back there.
“I got home and everyone was like, ‘what’s it like?’ I don’t know yet. I haven’t done it,” laughed Blueberg.
By the end of his two weeks he sat down with more coaches, who broke the news.
“He then just told me in a nonchalant way, ‘We’re very pleased with your performance. We want to bring you back here this winter to train and hopefully get you in a race this March,’” Blueberg said.
The reality and gravity of the situation finally set in.
“You’re telling me you’re 100 percent confident I’m going to get to race for team USA this winter?” asked Blueberg. “‘Yeah,’” he was told.
Ramping up the Olympic dream
With the next winter Olympics falling in February 2022 in Beijing, Blueberg said he was asked to head back to Lake Placid in January to continue training.
They told him they were confident he’d be in his first race by March.
After spending so much of his time in the gym to get stronger for baseball, Blueberg admitted it was surreal to think he had just joined the U.S. bobsled team based on his work ethic for another sport where his dreams had been dashed.
“I always ask myself … I feel like I don’t deserve this because I haven’t been working at it for that long, but its like I’ve been working out for this all along,” said Blueberg.
He said he still remembers talking to his father, wondering if all his work to throw harder on the diamond had been worth it.
“I remember him saying, very strong faced ‘the Lord has a plan,’ and I’ll be darned that I stand here today and it makes a heck of a lot more sense,” Blueberg said.
Now, the clock is ticking for Blueberg.
As an Olympic athlete in training, he won’t be compensated for his work and the shipping costs of the 460-plus pound sled falls on the shoulders of the four-man team that will race with it.
Blueberg said that costs of shipping the bobsled to Europe and back can run up a tab of $11,000 and that doesn’t include expenses for the athletes and their personal travel.
After getting his degree in economics, the former collegiate pitcher just received his real estate license.
However, he knows with the expenditures involved in the world’s second most expensive sport, he’s going to need some additional help.
“The costs just kind of add up. That’s something all the guys kind of warned me of. Get to the fundraising if you can. That’s a part of it,” said Blueberg. “Usually, a lot of people do pretty good at it because you have powerful brand behind it.”
Now backed by Team USA, Blueberg set up a GoFundMe page this week with a goal of $25,000.
By Friday morning, the newest member of the U.S. bobsled team had eclipsed $6,000 in donations.
If you wish to help contribute to Blueberg’s cause visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/chase-blueberg-team-usa-bobsled
The thought of sliding 100-plus mph doesn’t bother Blueberg.
In fact, he said growing up on a mountain in Lakeview he might have done himself some favors as a 10-year-old, carving his own tracks and getting up to speeds as fast as possible.
“We’ve been cutting up that hill for years,” said Blueberg.
Along with hitting the mountains in his backyard, the former Carson baseball and football player said he would visit his grandfather in Montana and snowboard on mountains out there.
Blueberg realized his Olympic dream on a whim and he’s still coming to terms with the reality that he is now an Olympic athlete.
“I’ve never met another bobsledder. I’ve never talked to one before this so its cool to kind of be in a tight little group of people who know what its like to be in and around it,” said Blueberg. “It’s fun to represent the city and I get to do that for everybody. … I’m excited to represent Team USA.”