Olympics just frosting on the cake for American luger
AP Sports Writer
A year ago, Dan and Jennifer Joye were told to expect the worst.
He was halfway around the world, racing his luge sled on the World Cup circuit. She was in California, 27 weeks pregnant, happier and healthier than ever. They were carefree, worry-free, thinking everything was perfect.
Not even close.
Out of nowhere, Jennifer went into labor. Ready or not, their son was coming. Some doctors said he would have a 50 percent chance of survival. Others said the boy likely wouldn’t live. Dan Joye got on a plane out of Germany as fast he could, not knowing if his first child would be alive when he landed.
“The rest of the story, well, it’s nothing short of a miracle,” Jennifer Joye says. “That’s for sure.”
It’s a miracle that’ll be on display later this month at the Vancouver Olympics, when a perfectly healthy 1-year-old Jett Joye is trackside for one of his father’s races for the first time.
Dan Joye already had one of those tailor-made-for-the-Olympics stories.
Born in Venezuela and raised in the Dominican Republic where his parents were both enrolled in medical school, Joye moved to Carmel, N.Y. later in his youth. That’s his now-retired father’s hometown; his mother is originally from Caracas and continues as a practicing pediatrician.
Once in Carmel, he went to a USA Luge Slider Search event in nearby White Plains, N.Y., when even as a 10-year-old he was considered good enough to have a future in the sport. Alas, he was too young to be part of the junior program, but a year later, USA Luge came calling and asking him to try again.
From there, everything fell into place.
He went to the 2006 Turin Olympics as a doubles slider with Preston Griffal and is going this year with Christian Niccum. He and Niccum were on-track for a Vancouver berth a year ago, when Joye got the message just after he finished a World Cup race in Konigssee, Germany with the urgent message from USA Luge’s Fred Zimny: “Your wife is in trouble.”
“They call it preeclampsia,” Dan Joye says. “Two weeks earlier, we were at the doctor, and everything was fine.”
It was just after New Year’s 2009 and finding a flight to San Francisco was tough because of the holiday schedules. So he waited in Germany a sleepless extra night, then finally got a plane for the nine-hour ride. By the time he landed, Jett – who hadn’t been named at that point – was 5 hours old.
“A parent’s worst nightmare,” Jennifer Joye says.
A mere 1 pound, 13 ounces at birth, the boy needed to stay in a hospital in San Jose, Calif., where his mother’s family lives, for another 2? months.
“He’s the luckiest baby in the world,” Dan Joye says.
Suddenly, everything about the Olympics, which had been priority No. 1, seemed not to matter at all.
Joye left the World Cup circuit, taking almost two months off. Would USA Luge assign Niccum someone else for a Vancouver bid? Would Joye even want to come back? Would his son’s health situation even render that possible?
All questions that went unanswered for several weeks. In time, as Jett improved, Dan Joye got back on the sled.
“I wanted to be home with my wife and son,” Dan Joye says. “For me, they’re everything.”
Says Niccum: “I’m a new father too, just like Dan. And family comes first, but I knew it would work out and he would be back.”
Sure enough, Joye came back. He and Niccum were the eighth-ranked team on the World Cup circuit this season, two spots ahead of longtime U.S. stars Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin in the standings, and it’s not outside the realm of total possibility that they could sneak into the medal chase at the Whistler Sliding Center.
“Think about it. We only have three years of experience as a team,” Joye says. “I remember doing this when I was 13, it took me about five years to be good with my previous partner. For us to be where we are now as a team, it’s actually pretty amazing.”
If you saw Jett Joye today, you wouldn’t know the first days of his life inside a pediatric intensive care unit were so touch-and-go. His mother says people often can’t believe he was born premature.
Sometimes, it’s even tough for his parents to believe that everything was so different a year ago.
“We didn’t think twice. We never said, ‘Why us?’ We just went through the year hoping for the best,” Jennifer Joye says. “Maybe we were due for something good. Maybe that’s the way to look at it. Our main objective a year ago was just to get our son out of the hospital happy and healthy, and we accomplished that objective. Then it was Danny’s turn to accomplish his objective. Basically, we were just hoping for a miracle, and that’s what we received.”
It’ll become official Friday night, when Dan Joye will march into Vancouver with the U.S. Olympic team for the second time.
And if that wasn’t enough, on Feb. 17, Jett Joye will be there for the Olympic doubles race. That, alone, makes it the most significant race of his father’s career.
Out of expecting the worst, Dan Joye got maybe the best year ever.
“It’s all happened so fast,” Dan Joye says. “It’s been amazing, when you think about it.”