Liam Rivera, a fourth-grader at Schenectady’s Van Corlaer Elementary, doesn’t have a bobsled or access to a bobsled track. But he has assembled his own bobsled team with three of his friends. “We like being outside. We like sports,” the 10-year-old Rivera told Olympic bobsledder John Napier.
Napier attended Schenectady High School and left in 2002 to train for the Olympics while being home-schooled. He returned to the district Monday, encouraging students at Van Corlaer Elementary to pursue their dreams and work hard.
Students responded enthusiastically. When Napier asked who wanted to compete in the Olympics, all hands shot up in the air.
“Play as many sports as you can … find something you really love,” he said.
Napier, 23, participated in baseball, basketball, soccer, track and field and karate, but his true love was bobsledding.
During his visit to the school, Napier said he was inspired by the video the students had sent him after he made the team, offering well wishes and cheering “USA.”
“You guys cheered me up at the biggest moment of my life and I appreciate that,” he told those gathered in the gymnasium.
Physical education teacher Joe Bennett said he coached Napier when he ran track and pole vaulted in high school. When Napier made the Olympic team, Bennett and colleague Chad Languish sent him a DVD of the students and reached out to him to arrange a visit. Napier said he could come the second week of March, and followed through on his promise.
Bennett told the students they can achieve their goals, as Napier did. “He walked in the same halls, sat in the same chairs you guys are going to be sitting in,” he said.
After speaking with students for a few minutes in the gym, Napier went to each classroom, where students peppered him with questions such as how fast the sled went.
“We go down the hill at 90 miles per hour,” he said.
Napier served as the sled’s driver. He admitted “screwing up” in the navigation of the four-man race, which caused the sled to crash in the final turn — the most difficult part of the course. It did not discourage him. Napier, a member of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, plans to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I just made a few mistakes. That’s what happens. You just have to keep fighting. It will pay off,” he said.
Napier injured his neck, but said he was lucky to be well enough “so I could see you guys today.”
Students asked him if he got a new bobsled when he crashed. No, he replied. He has to fix the damaged sled.
He also admitted he gets nervous before each race.
Students were also interested in Napier’s free time. Napier said he has little because he is always training. His parents were bobsledders and he took up the sport when he was 8. “I never had a year off. I never had a break.”
Napier said the Olympic opening ceremonies were an emotional moment for him because he knew he was part of an historic occasion.
“Imagine 80,000 people in the arena and you walk out and they’re all cheering for you,” he said.
Fourth-grader Shaunna Ditton, 10, said she’d like to become a bobsledder.
“Even though it’s dangerous, I think it will be very fun,” she said.
Categories: Schenectady County