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Saturday, Feb. 20: A long day culminates with Mike happy and safe

About Nicholas Kohn and Marissa Heiser

Nicholas is the younger brother of Olympic bobsledder and bronze medalist Mike Kohn, who is competing in the two-man and four-man bobsled in these Olympics. Originally from West Columbia, S.C, Nicholas currently resides in New York City where he is an actor in the Tony Award winning Broadway Musical Avenue Q. Marissa is a singer/actress, writer and stand up comedian living in New York City. She is no stranger to winter sports herself as she is originally from Layton, Utah. Nicholas & Marissa met 10 years ago while performing together in summer stock theatre in Cape Cod, Mass. Last year they fell in love, and enjoy running, playing with dogs, and making each other laugh.

Saturday, Feb. 20

The alarm went off at 3 a.m. in New York City, and we finally dozed off at 3 a.m. in Whistler. We started the day with two hours of sleep. It was a controlled chaos in the apartment trying to make sure we had everything to bring with us. Wool socks, warm jackets, gloves, Team Kohn T-Shirts & signs, and of course some good luck.

It was an Olympic-sized day of traveling. We made it to the airport at 4:30 a.m. for our 6 a.m. flight from New York, then to Dallas (of all places), then to Vancouver. The flight to British Columbia was packed mostly consisting of Olympic bound fans. We flew over the mountains of Idaho and Washington and as we passed each state the excitement grew. It all culminated when we saw Olympic Stadium from the plane.

The airport was bright and new and fully prepared for all the people going through customs. We were very impressed. This was not the final leg of our journey; we still had a 2-½ hour drive to Whistler. The road winded along the coast where we were at the perfect vantage point for icy crags and jagged cliffs, softened by jewel-toned evergreen.

Zack, our cab driver from Whistler Resort Cabs, pointed out sites of interest and suggested things we might want to do and see on our trip. He’s a young kid who does his day job so he can spend his free time snowboarding. We bragged on Mike and his journey to the games and Zack was instantly a fan of Team Kohn. Mike’s story has inspired many. Our cousin created a Facebook fanpage and after a few days he already had over 700 fans, many of whom were family and friends but a good amount of other Americans who heard of his story and wanted to be a part of it. Truly remarkable.

Once we got to Whistler we had 20 minutes to change and get ourselves together and up to the sliding center. We called a cab, and went out to wait. 10 minutes went by, 15 minutes, and no cab, so we started walking. We found our way to the bus stop, and made our way onto a village bound bus. We had 5 minutes to make it to the event as the bus pulled into Whistler Village. We transferred to a shuttle, then to another shuttle up to the sliding center, and by this time we were 5 minutes late to the event.

We ran up the stairs only to find a line with thousands that serpentined across the hill at least seven times. We were told 17,000 spectators could fit in the complex and we were sure that we were number 16,998 and 16,999 in line. We realized we would miss the race if we didn’t do something.

We spotted some fellow Americans holding flags and tried to mix in with them. We were quickly caught and called out for cutting in line. We told them that we were rushing to see our brother race and they let us jump in front of them. “You have to get in there!” he said.

He told us they were making a collage of all the families of athletes they had met on their trip. They took our picture and had us autograph a blank photo paper that they were going to print the picture on later. They quickly became our advocates for getting into the race and before we knew it, they coerced a couple in a parallel line to let us cut because we had to see Mike race. This happened a few more times and we were amazed at how friendly everyone was to us.

Once we got through security we got the call from the family at the top of the hill that Mike had completed his first run. We missed it. We started running towards the finish.

We got into the spectator section at the bottom of the track just in time to see our first sled. It was the first run for the British team. They we’re coming down and we could see them on the jumbo-tron above the length of track by us. We were looking forward to seeing the sled pass, and before it did there was a crash. The first sled we saw zoomed by on its side with the brakeman on the ice not far behind sliding down the track. The crowd gasped in horror.

The mood was somber until the British team got up and walked away from the track. The stadium erupted in cheers and applause. You’d think they’d just won Olympic gold. In bobsledding the objective is not just getting down the track as fast as possible, it’s getting down the track safe and in one piece.

We were on hour 17 of no sleep. Our family was at the top of the track so we started our power trek up the mountain through nearly a mile of winding track and up 500-feet of elevation. We watched the other sleds all along the way. We saw a few more crashes. The Australian sled went down on its side for most of the track. Our legs were heavy but our hopes were high as we reached the top.

We got to the start right in time. We reunited with the family and hunkered down for the second run. All the heat we felt from the hike quickly cooled at the top of the track. Outfitted in our Team Kohn hats and armed with our American flag, we were ready to give Mike a hero’s welcome. We screamed and chanted USA, all the while jumping and stomping.

Mike and his teammate, Nick Cunningham, looked calm, determined and very happy to push off. They put all their energy into 5 seconds of extreme physical exertion. After that it was all up to Mike to get that sled down the hill. It was the longest 52.71 seconds of our 18-hour day. We held our breath as the sled carefully careened over 90 mph down a track. He had a few swerves and bobbles on the dangerous track. There was a close jolt at curve 13. They call that particular turn 50/50 because those are the odds of staying upright after going through it. He made it all the way safe and happy.

After the two runs and some disqualifications Mike is in 12th place. He’s confident that he can turn it around on Sunday’s runs. “I only have 11 sleds to catch!” was his response when I asked him how he did. With this track anything is possible. We’ll keep you all along for the ride.

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