Story by Debra Holtz
Marching in the Parade of Nations in February at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, will be the culmination of a lifelong dream for Valerie Fleming '03.
Fleming, 29, is considered one of the top brakemen on the World Cup bobsledding circuit only two years after taking up the sport. She and her driver-partner, Shauna Rohbock (left to right, above), were named to the Olympic team after ranking second in the World Cup women's standings, as the top U.S. sled pair.
Growing up in Foster City, bobsledding was the last thing on Fleming's mind. She was an all-around athlete, though, and dreamed of being an Olympian from the time she was a child. She played soccer, softball and ran as a sprinter in track and field before taking up the javelin during her senior year at the University of California at Santa Barbara and later becoming the women's champion of the Big West Conference.
But Fleming suffered numerous injuries during her six years of throwing the javelin. So shortly after earning her master's degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Saint Mary's College in 2003, Fleming tried bobsledding and found her true passion.
"It all happened so fast," Fleming said in an interview with the San Mateo Daily Journal in November. "It's really been a whirlwind."
As a brakeman, Fleming's job is to give the sled a powerful push from behind until it picks up speed. At that point, she jumps in, sits down, and tucks her head between her knees. Fleming's partner then steers the sled down an open 3-feet-wide tunnel, often reaching speeds of up to 80 mph.
"You experience similar sensations on some roller coasters, but on a roller coaster, you're not worried about crashing," she told the San Mateo Daily Journal. "With a bobsled, there's always that possibility."
In just over two years, Fleming has come a long way in bobsledding. In the 2004-05 World Cup season, she set five start records and came in second on the same track in Cesana Pariol, Italy, where the 2006 bobsledding competition will take place.