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Bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator Shares Her Secrets To Turning Struggle Into Success

Fun fact: Jazmine was Broadway-bound as a kid! "I tried out for 'The Lion King' when I was nine or ten. I still have my tap shoes," she says. (Photo courtesy of Topher DesPres)

It only takes six seconds before a bobsled pilot is singlehandedly in charge of steering a 400-pound sled as it plummets down an icy one-mile track, whipping around a labyrinth of turns at upwards of 75 mph. No pressure, right? Not for Jazmine Fenlator, who’s used to steering herself and others through tough situations. The USA bobsled driver and Olympic hopeful has triumphed over her fair share of struggles both on and off the track. Despite serious family health problems, personal injury and the loss of her home to Hurricane Irene, the New Jersey native has kept her sights focused on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, finishing right behind the reigning Olympic gold medalist at the 2012 Lake Placid World Cup with new partner Lolo Jones. Oh, did we mention she also juggles her training with studying for grad school? We caught up with the resilient athlete, ranked second in the U.S. and eighth in the world, to discover her pre-race rituals, hidden childhood passions and how she continues to bounce back from personal setbacks.

We’d love to know what you’re training for right now. It sounds like the Olympics, hopefully soon? I’m hoping to vie for a medal in Sochi, so that’s less than six months away. It’s pretty exciting. Right now I’ve just been going back and forth between Calgary, Canada and the U.S. Calgary has an indoor ice facility and the U.S. doesn’t, so to simulate our sport as much as possible, we’ll go up there in the off season. We also do a lot of dry land training in the off-season, when we’re off-ice, running, lifting, sprinting. All that good stuff.

You come from a track and field background. How did you get into bobsled? I was a track and field athlete in college at Rider University, and was looking to train for London. Some good friends of my coach, who were also coaching our rivals, kind of mentioned that they did bobsled after their careers, and asked what I wanted to do. And he was looking at them like, “Bobsled? What are you talking about? She wants to do track, but I’ll mention it to her.” At that time I was qualifying for NCAA’s and I was pretty focused on one goal at a time, so he submitted my athletic resume for me. They ended up contacting me and asking me to try out, so I tried out in the fall of 2007 and haven’t left. I fell in love with the sport and pursued that path instead.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?  What’s pretty awesome is Lolo Jones came out for our team last year, as well as Tianna Madison, and now we have Lauryn Williams. I’ve been a huge fan of Lolo and for her to be my direct teammate and friend throughout this past year has been super awesome and not anything I ever expected. I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s extremely humble in our sport and just soaks up information. She has a lot of experience she brings to the table as well. Last year was my second season on the World Cup. Lolo’s my brakeman and she was only in the sport for two and half weeks when we came away with a silver medal.

How do you prepare for a really big race or event? At a competition I have to have music. It’s something that just helps fuel me. I always have to rock out to Bob [Marley]. It’s in my roots. My dad’s Jamaican. Some rituals: I like to wear all black under my suit. For me, black is like a warrior—in the zone, ready for battle. But I also like some subtle swag, so I’m an accessories kind of chick. I have a lime green watch and I paint my nails gold and lime green—gold for victory, lime green for my bobsled color.

What was it like with Lolo being so new? You get to choose who you race with: brakemen have driver choice and drivers have brakemen choice, so it’s kind of like a prom. You’re like, “Hey, do you possibly want to race with me?” Brakemen have that first six seconds, and usually it’s less than that, at the top of the hill to show what they’ve got athletically, and then it’s up to the pilot to maintain it. When I raced with Lolo in team trials, I was super impressed. I’ve seen her compete in hurdles and be super resilient—she's been knocked down, suffered from injury, and gets back up. At the line, we had that bond right away.

When you suffer a setback, how do you come back from that? Well I’ve been, I guess, unfortunately fortunate to have back-to-back struggles, especially the last two years. My mom had quadrupal bypass surgery, three months later a stroke, three months later her lupus came out of remission, and then three months later Hurricane Irene hit and we were homeless. Every six weeks I heard bad news. On top of that, I suffered a hamstring injury. I compartmentalize whatever setback happens at that time and kind of sit there. Take a minute, be upset and make a plan. Look at the big picture. What’s the goal? The goal isn’t for me to be my best right now, because I’ll burn out. You want to keep building and building to the Olympics, or to whatever that big race is. I feel like setbacks are those tools of adapting that you put in your toolbox, and then on the big day when anything can happen, you’re prepared.

It sounds like you have a close relationship with your family. How is it being away from them, with the training? How do you balance the two? Balance is tricky. I came into the sport fairly young, right from college, so I think I was naïve on some of the tolls of being away and not seeing your family and missing out on things. I really had to prioritize. I’m also in grad school and doing other things on the side, so you have to come with a big priority list. Obviously, my family will always be number one. My mom could care less if I have a medal around my neck or if I walk into Opening Ceremonies. She wants her kids to be happy, healthy, and live their dreams. If this is my dream, then this is her dream. She doesn’t want to take away from me, so I know when I’m out training, I’m also helping her live her dream of being a supportive parent.

What’s your favorite body part to work out? I have to say I’m a huge fan of legs and glutes. I think that’s probably because that’s my largest asset, but especially for power speed athletes, a lot of your strength comes from your legs. I came from throwing and track and field, so being in the weight room is my nature. I think it’s super important in general to have a strong core and back. A lot of workouts that work your legs, such as power planes and squats, are really total body workouts.

Since you’re doing so many cold weather things, are there any beauty tricks you’ve picked up along the way that keep everything hydrated? Lotion. I’m a huge fan of shea and cocoa butter. I’m a huge fan of natural products. On tour I’ll just take a big tub of coconut oil in my bag. It locks in the moisture so it’s really good. Being in cold weather sports, you tend to not drink a lot or you drink hot beverages that aren’t really hydrating, like teas. So for your lips, you can use vitamin E. Just get those liquid vitamin E pills, put a little tack in there, and you can use it for a couple of days.

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