I’m not an SF guy. Hell, I’m not even military. But one of the things I’ve admired most in my time working with the crew at SOFLETE is the resolute nature with which most SF carry themselves. They determine a goal, they assess their situation and they do whatever they can to achieve that goal. Mission completion, I believe it’s called.
Green Beret medic and Olympic bobsledder Nate Weber is no different. For Weber, it was a simple magazine article in Men’s Health that led him to become an Olympic athlete, an article that highlighted the training regimen of a world-class bobsledder.
“I could do that,” Weber said to himself.
And so he did.
Over the next few years, Weber trained hard and eventually placed at America’s premier bobsledding competition. His success led to a selection as a member of the Olympic team that represented the United States of America in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
We recently spoke from his home near Fort Carson, Colorado, where he is currently rehabbing in hopes of making another run at an Olympic medal.
Before we get into your background, I have to ask. How does someone get into bobsledding? Where does it start, exactly?
When I was going through the Special Forces Qualification Course back in 2010, a buddy of mine had a room in the barracks right above where we did our medical training. So we would go up there and eat lunch and stuff. And this was in the time before smartphones, so when you had to take a shit, you had to do something else to occupy yourself. So he had this Men’s Health magazine that had an article about a guy who won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics, kind of described how this guy got into the sport of bobsledding and I thought, “Man, if this guy can go win a gold medal, I can at least, make the Olympic team.”
This was in Colorado, where you’re stationed now?
No this was in North Carolina, while I was going through the Qualification Course on Fort Bragg.
What was your athletic background prior to just deciding you were going to go to the Olympics? Were you an athlete growing up? In college?
So most guys on the (Olympic) team come from a track or football background and I’m a little bit different in that regard. I grew up wrestling, that’s what I was the best at.
And the reason for that, correct me if I’m wrong, is that, other than the driver, the initial push is the most important part of a bobsled race.
Yeah. So the push is really important because every hundredth or tenth of a second you get up top, you can multiply that by three at the bottom if all things on the drive are equal.
You were immersed in the Qualification Course, meaning you couldn’t just pick up and try bobsledding. So what was the next step?
I actually didn’t even start training for it until two years later. I had a big mouth when I was younger and after reading this article, I told a bunch of my instructors, “Just wait. I’m gonna be an Olympic bobsledder one day.”
So I ran my mouth and, honestly, I forgot about it for a of couple years. Then in like 2012, I was sitting in the team room and we weren’t doing anything. We weren’t deploying anywhere. A bunch of our deployments were getting canceled and I was like, “Man. I want to do something.” And it just so happened that one of those instructors that I had run my mouth about the Olympics to came to my company, to my unit and the first thing he said to me was, “What are you doing here?”
That kind of open ended question is pretty confusing, so I asked him what he meant.
“I thought you said you were gonna go be an Olympic bobsledder.” And I thought to myself, “Oh shit. I did say that.”
So the very next day, I walked into our THOR program, which is the strength and conditioning programs that all Special Forces groups have, and showed one of the coaches the stuff that they test for at a bobsled combine and I asked if he could make me good at that stuff.
What kind of stuff? Deadlifts, explosive movements?
Yeah. It’s a lot of explosive stuff. Cleans, three rep squat max, some sprinting, some long jump and something called a “shot toss,” which is where you take an eighteen-pound shot and throw it underhand. It’s a lot of explosiveness.
Was this coach familiar with this stuff in the scope of bobsledding? Or did you just show him what they look for and ask to train for that?
Well, this guy was the head strength coach for (the NHL’s) Colorado Avalanche for eleven years, so he was pretty spun up on the whole thing. He just gave me a general program because I had no experience in really training like an athlete prior to that. I would make up my own workout programs, I got what I got out of Men’s Health. It was all very basic, like, “Go do a 3x10 of bench press. Do a 3x10 of squats.” I was never doing any sport-specific stuff. But that was my introduction into doing something really specific.
Did you wrestle in college?
I had a couple of scholarship offers but I really just wanted to join the Army right out of high school. I was really gung ho, wanted to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, so I enlisted right out of high school in 2005.
What was your process from enlisting to ending up in SF?
So I left for basic training three weeks after I graduated high school. I enlisted as an infantry guy and literally the first day I was there, they tricked me into joining The Old Guard. I’m very happy that I did it now, because it’s a huge honor to be part of the Old Guard. But when I was nineteen, twenty-years-old, I did not want to be doing that.
Right. As someone who actively wanted to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, you must’ve been stewing in your juices.
Yeah, man. I was eighteen, I had been there for maybe eight hours and I get pulled into a room at two in the morning and they’re like, “Hey, we have this really elite unit that’s not for everyone.”
I was like, “Elite unit?! That sounds cool!” So I raised my hand and then four months later, I’m ironing dress blues and setting up parade uniforms thinking that I had gotten tricked.
So I did that for two-and-a-half years, not really doing a whole lot of cool stuff. And then as soon as I made E4 and I was able to go to Selection, I went to Selection like two months later. As soon as I could try to go become a Green Beret, I did. That was September of 2007. I was in really good shape back then and I was lucky enough to get selected my first time.
In the Old Guard, you’re doing this stuff that’s not really hardcore military stuff, so how did you keep yourself in such great shape?
Honestly, I didn’t do a whole lot to stay in shape back then but when I set my sights on getting selected, I was rucking eight-to-ten miles every single day. You know, when I want something, I’ll put in a lot of work for it.
You get through Selection on your first try, so what happened then?
From the time I went to Selection to the time I graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course, was almost three years. I had to go back to my unit for a few months and clear them, then over to Airborne School and then I attended a Q Course. I learned a language, learned a Special Forces job.
I’m a medic, which is kind of a funny story. When I got selected, I told them I wanted to be an 18 Charlie, like an engineer, because I was like, “Yeah, let’s blow stuff up!” That sounded like a lot of fun.
So the cadre there comes up to me and says that I hadn’t taken this remedial test and that he didn’t know how smart I was with math, so he couldn’t let me be an 18 Charlie. But he looks down at my GT score and it was really, really high, he tells me I’m going to be a medic.
I looked at him and said, “Wait a minute. You just told me I’m too dumb to do the dumber job, so now you’re gonna give me the smarter job?”
Obviously, I didn’t say that, so I was like, “Okay.” So then I left to do all my medical training, and it was then that I picked up that Men’s Health magazine while I was in the bathroom that changed the course of my life.
Were you deploying at all during this time?
We didn’t do anything for the first few years I was in Special Forces, which is what led me to bobsled. I didn’t deploy until 2014, which is when we went to Africa. I went to Niger. The following year, I went to Cameroon and the year after that, I went to Afghanistan.
Are you still active duty?
I am but I’m currently transitioning over to the World Class Athlete Program, which is a program that, if you’re at an Olympic level in your sport, you can do it as your job in the Army. It lets me just push bobsleds for the Army and be a good representative.
So go back to the start of your bobsledding career. You had never been in a bobsled before, right? You’d just read about it in a magazine.
Yeah, I just read about it and thought I could do it and go to the Olympics. You know, a completely normal thing.
What was your first foray into an actual bobsled?
Every year, they do multiple combines around the U.S. as a recruiting tool. Since there are only two bobsled tracks in the U.S., most people don’t grow up bobsledding. So I went to this combine and I scored well enough to be invited to attend Push Championships.
Is there any actual bobsledding at these combines? Or is it all just the explosive movements?
Yeah, it’s all just physical testing stuff and you’re not actually even pushing a bobsled yet.
And are the combines invitation-based? Or can anyone just sign up and show up?
Oh anyone can sign up. If you to the USA Bobsled website, they’ll say where they’re gonna be. If you want to put your money where your mouth is, anyone can come out. So anyone reading this article, come on out to a bobsled combine if you think you can do what I do.
How did you land on a team?
So I got invited to National Push Championships, up in Lake Placid, New York, which was my first experience pushing a bobsled. It’s really weird because sometimes the guys who score best at the combine aren’t the best at pushing the sled. It doesn’t always translate over. The guys who are the strongest and fastest aren’t necessarily the guys who push a sled the fastest.
At my first Push Championships, I didn’t have a great result. I finished twenty-second out of fifty people. I was fairly far down the ranks my first year. But it was well enough that I got one of the really young developmental drivers to put me on his sled for team trials, which is the next step toward making the (Olympic) team. So I had someone to push for that October when they do National Team Trials. So about a month after Push Championships, I was riding down the track in Lake Placid with this seventeen-year-old kid driving me.
Tell me about your first time in an actual full-tilt bobsled.
My first time down the track, we actually hit a wall. So there’s no padding, no seats, you just kind of hold on to the frame of the sled, which is just steel and fiberglass. You get going upwards of about eighty-miles-per-hour and my first time, we hit a wall so hard, my body cracked the side of the sled on my first run. I had a bruise over my hip the size of a baseball.
It was an experience. It’s like a car crash every time you go down.
Were you like, “What the fuck?!”
The first time, I was like, “Holy shit.”
The whole first year, I was sliding with the younger guy and I thought that bobsledders were the toughest motherfuckers on the face of the Earth because it was like playing an entire game of hockey every time you go down the track. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when I got in the sled with a bit better pilot, that I realized it’s not always that bad.
So the next year, I took fourth at National Push Championships. There were people on the 2014 Olympic team that I beat. Not by much, but I was still beating them. But I didn’t make that team because I didn’t know how to play the game yet. There are a lot of politics involved that I was unaware of.
So for the next three years, I just kinda stuck around as much as I could, getting in a race or two every single year, training on every one of my deployments to stay in the best shape I could. As soon as I would get back from a deployment, I would go bobsled.
I’m assuming bobsledding is a small community.
Yeah. Everyone knows of everyone. So I would get back from Africa and try and get a race in. Just to let everyone know that I was still bobsledding, still in great shape. I was just trying to keep my name relevant.
And how’d that lead to a spot on the Olympic team?
So in the summer of 2016, I was with the 10th Special Forces Group in Afghanistan and I politicked with the people that I worked for to get a desk job for 2017 so I wouldn’t deploy and could focus on making the Olympic team. Long story short, they said yes, they put me at this desk job. If I could make top three at the Push Championships, I could make the Olympic team. It’d be great press, great PR for the Army if we had a Green Beret on the Olympic team, so they agreed and kind of cut me loose.
In July of 2017, I finished in third place at National Push Championships, which gave them enough belief in me for them to say, “Go try and make this team.”
So I got picked for a really good sled for National Team Trials and I was able to make the team. But just being on the National Team does not mean you’re on the Olympic team. So every single week leading up to the Olympics, you’ll do what’s called a “Race-Off.” I had to race for my spot eight times that year. And if you have a bad race, they might replace you on that sled, so you have to perform every single week.
And before the last race of the season, they name the Olympic team.
So you had no idea that you were on the team until just before the Olympics?
They name the team about a month before the Opening Ceremony. But you have a pretty good idea that you might make the team. The U.S. qualified three sleds for the (2018) Olympics and if you were on one of those sleds as the season ended, you were probably going to be on the Olympic team. So I was pretty sure I was on that team.
They take everyone up to a room at the track wherever you’re at on tour that year and they have an announcement. The CEO of USA Bobsledding comes up and he announces the U.S. Olympic team. The only thing you don’t know is which driver you’re going to be paired with.
What was really cool was that I was paired with Justin Olsen, who was the bobsledder I had first read about in Men’s Health.
How’d it work out at the Games?
Not so well at the Games. Two days before opening ceremonies, Justin got rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
Was there a reserve or did they cancel your sled?
No. He sucked it up and got back in the sled. He was racing two-man sleds two weeks after he got that surgery. So three weeks after that surgery, we’re in the sled, doing four-man, racing in the Olympics. Justin is a tough son of a bitch. Three weeks after an appendectomy, he’s in a bobsled going eighty-miles-an-hour, hitting four Gs through turns.
How’d you finish?
We finished in twentieth place.
Was that a letdown?
At the Olympics, I think our start times were seventh and eighth, around there. But when a guy has emergency surgery, there’s going to be some sort of effect there. You can’t expect to be at your absolute best three weeks after that. But the fact that we were top eight at the start shows Justin’s character, how badass of a guy he is. We were still one of the fastest teams at the start.
We were still of the mindset that we were going for it. We were either gonna be the fastest sled or we were gonna crash doing it. So we went out with a very aggressive sled setup on the first run, with that mentality in line. It was a bit too aggressive, so we hit a wall coming out of a very crucial point on the track, so within a ten seconds of our first run at the Olympics, we knew our medal shots were over. We were just gonna fight for the best finish we possibly could.
But that was a chance you had to take.
Yeah. It was a chance we had to take because we weren’t out there to take tenth or eleventh, fifth or sixth place. We were trying to win. We risked it all and it turned out to be too much of a risk. But it’s not something that I regret.
The silver lining was on the very last run of the Olympics, we had the fourth fastest run of the entire heat. We beat the team who won a silver medal on that heat. But it showed us that we could have been in it. We just fell so far behind on that first run. But it was a nice little ray of hope or a consolation prize that we had the fourth-fastest run.
So are you locked in now that you’ve proven yourself as an Olympian?
No. Not at all. You have to make the team every single year. It goes back to a National Team and there will be a World Championship Team every year, which is the equivalent to an Olympic team.
Are you on that team?
So I had to have hip and wrist surgery and I missed last season, so I’m currently training back up to make the National Team and the World Championship Team.
Finally, how do you approach SOFLETE’s Die Living ethos and mentality?
It’s a really cool philosophy and way to live. It’s a big part of why I do everything that I do. It’s why I decide that I’ve only got one chance to go to the Olympics or go be a Green Beret. It’s a great way to live. Go do stuff, make an adventure, live a life that’s worth living. Go live life and do it up until the day you die.
You only get one life. Fucking go after it.
Our Interviews are conducted and written by Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, a writer and musician living Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is one of the few people on Earth who loves punk rock, creative nonfiction and Olympic weightlifting equally. Born and raised in New Jersey, he tries not to complain about the pizza in NC too much.