Sled Your Inhibitions and Try Luge

By Pamela Marean
Standard-Times Correspondent

Fred Zimny/USA Luge Luge hopefuls can reach speeds as high as 30 mph during a Slider Search event.

NEW BEDFORD — Wanted: youngsters willing to lie on their backs on thin fiberglass sleds and whiz down ice channels at speeds of more than 90 mph — with no brakes.
If this sounds like a good time to you, the U.S. Olympic Luge team wants to send you for a ride in the city on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13 and 14, when the USA Slider Search comes to town.
While no ice is involved this time of year, a simulation of sleds on wheels coasting through the streets is designed to introduce the Winter Olympics sport to boys and girls ages 11 to 14. Those who enjoy the adrenaline rush and have a knack for it could be trained as 2014 Olympic competitors, said Jon Lundin of USA Luge.
“Wear an old pair of sneakers because you’ll be braking Fred Flintstone-style on pavement. You steer with your shoulder and your foot,” said Ann Marie Lopes, director of New Bedford’s Office of Tourism & Marketing, who is helping to organize the event in the city.
The Whaling City is one of only eight or 10 the Slider Search will visit across the country this year. Ms. Lopes said she hopes to sneak in a trial herself.
“When I heard about it, I wished I was between the ages of 11 and 14,” she said. “It’s always been my favorite winter sport, though it’s a little obscure.”
A SouthCoast youngster has been selected in the past. In 1996, then-14-year-old Apponequet Regional High School freshman Peter Motta heard about a Slider Search being held in Danvers. On a whim, he went out to give it a try. He went on to make the Junior National Team and compete in World Cup tours. Today, he is USA Luge’s Junior National Team assistant coach.
If he hadn’t gone that day to try “hopping in a sled and taking a couple of runs,” who knows what he’d be doing in life, he said, adding: “Every person in this sport has a similar story. Not many people grow up with the dream of becoming a luge athlete.”
Mr. Motta will be in the city along with two Olympic luge teammates to teach participants how to get the most out of their rides.
USA Luge reports that the team discovers most of its athletes through this simple Slider Search, which sends you downhill at speeds of 20 to 30 mph.
“It’s a new sensation. There are not a whole lot of things in life where you lie on your back and go at that speed, even a relatively slow speed. It’s pretty exhilarating,” Mr. Motta said.
So what makes a Slider Search winner? Four things, said Mr. Lundin: “A good sense of balance, coachability, good hand-eye coordination and lack of fear.”
He said there is no way for one person to be more prepared than another for the experience. Skateboarders, surfers, snowboarders, skiers, rollerbladers — none of them will have any special edge. The trick, Mr. Lundin said, is that those who go on to train for the Olympics “really enjoy themselves — really enjoy the speed.”
The next step for anyone who stands out as a potential luge demon in the Slider Search will be a “trip to Lake Placid, New York, to try the sport on ice on an actual Olympic-style track,” he said.
Whether or not you think you’re a contender, Mr. Lundin noted this is a chance to “do something you’ve never done before.”
The city course will be on Portland Street, between Rodney French Boulevard and Fort Street. To supplement the location’s subtle incline, the Slider Search crew will bring a launch ramp.
Having the luge visit “will bring the Olympic spirit here to the city of New Bedford,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang. In addition, he said, “It is going to be great fun for New Bedford area children and their families.”
The cost to participate is $15 per child and includes a USA Luge T-shirt. For complete information and to register, call 1-800-USA LUGE or visit
August 30, 2008
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