CLIFTON PARK – Shenendehowa senior Annika Knizek likes to face her challenges head on — sometimes at 80 miles per hour — on her stomach.
The 17-year-old Clifton Park resident was invited to compete at the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation National Championships at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.
“It’s just fun, it can be scary, but as soon as you get going it’s just that adrenaline pumping,” Knizek said on the Shenendehowa campus last week. “Even after a bad run you might get a little hurt and it might be OK, you hang on, but it’s still so much fun.”
She admitted that she wasn’t much of a thrill seeker before she took her first trip on the skeleton course in Lake Placid.
“I didn’t want to do it in the beginning; roller coasters were never really my thing,” she said. “If I was going sledding I could be sitting in the back, so it is kind of ironic that I would get into this sport.”
Her father, Shenendehowa High School certified athletic trainer Rick Knizek, jokingly takes the blame.
“I’ve been involved in the sport for about 12 years and I’ve worked for the USA bobsled/skeleton team as a medical provider since the 2011 season,” he said. “At the end of each nationals they offer friends and family a trip down the race course. I asked Annika if she wanted to try it and she said if I went first, she would do it.”
The two started well below the start of the 1-mile, 20-turn frozen ice course for their maiden voyage five years ago.
“I was hooked right there,” Annika Knizek said. “I was terrified at the beginning, I didn’t want to do it and then when we got to the bottom I was like, ‘all right, let’s do that again.’ ”
Rick Knizek has on-track experience at Mt. Hovenberg and around the world with USA Bobsled and Skeleton, working in his medical capacity and also competing in the two-person bobsled.
“I’m so familiar and comfortable with the sport I really didn’t have any reservations about her competing,” he said. “It was just very cool and a proud moment for me to see her in the start house surrounded by athletes of all levels, whether they were developmental athletes or Olympians, just to be in that pool of athletes competing at the same time was pretty cool.”
After her initial run she was hooked and made the trip to Lake Placid, practiced and was invited to the sport’s development camp. As she got faster, working on her starting run before leaping onto the sled, she was invited to compete as a developmental athlete at the nationals.
She covered the 1-mile, 20-turn course in four minutes, 2.29 seconds — but to the athlete it is a blur at speeds approaching 80 mph.
She said it can be scary at times.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, probably a 12,” Annika Knizek said. “There are definitely a couple of curves that you know just before you get into it that it’s going to be bad and you’re lucky if you can get out of it.”
To date, she hasn’t had a bad wreck or broken anything during any of her runs.
The skeleton sled has runners, a chassis and a saddle with the steering done by the athlete who is hoping to cooperate with gravity along the downhill course.
“It’s pretty much all physical,” Annika Knizek said. “It’s a lot of shoulder steering and sometimes you use your feet to steer. You stick a foot out just to get a little extra turn in there.”
There have been some moments when she questioned her reasons for racing downhill face-first.
“The worst for me was when I was basically on my shoulder, I just fell out of a curve,” she said. “I scraped along for a little bit until I just flipped back onto the sled.”
Annika Knizek plans to major in architecture in college, still not decided on a college or university yet, but she knows that the opportunity to skeleton at the college level doesn’t exist.
“I think my plan is to get into more training camps, get in extra runs on the weekends or vacations and then see what happens in a couple of years,” she said.
“A majority of the athletes she would compete with are all post-collegiate athletes with bachelor’s or master’s degrees,” Rick Knizek said. “They’ve got jobs that allow them to fund themselves, work remotely and pursue their dreams.
“Speaking for her, the goal would be to stay involved during college and then if she’s still on the hook when she’s done, she’ll have the support of her family, first and foremost, and our friends to see where the sport can take her.”
Reach sportswriter Stan Hudy at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @StanHudy.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Clifton Park and Halfmoon, Email Newsletter, High School Sports, Sports, Sports