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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Letting routine slide: Ex-UT star trades job for sled

BY TOM REED
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Todd Hays, driving, and Pavle Jovanovic, Steve Mesler and Kreitzburg push to start a run at the European Championship. Todd Hays, driving, and Pavle Jovanovic, Steve Mesler and Kreitzburg push to start a run at the European Championship.
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U.S. Olympic bobsledder Brock Kreitzburg had achieved the stability so many people his age desire by the spring of 2003, and it was eating away at him.

The Akron native had a master's degree, a decent income, a spiritually rewarding job in a warm-weather climate. As he came face to clock face with a 9-to-5 existence, however, Kreitzburg longed for the sporting life he had exchanged for his newfound routine.

"The competition and high-level training is what drew me back to bobsled and, you know, the real world is kind of overrated anyway," Kreitzburg said.

The Olympic flame is both real and metaphorical.

It burns inside athletes such as Kreitzburg and its intensity can be heartbreakingly all-consuming. The former All-Mid American Conference choice in football and track at the University of Toledo deemed it worth the risk.

The decision he made three years ago has Kreitzburg - 11 days shy of his 30th birthday - headed to Torino to represent his country in the Winter Games, which begin tomorrow with the opening ceremonies.

Brock Kreitzburg Brock Kreitzburg
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Abandoning the security of steady employment, he rushed headlong at speeds approaching 85 mph into the dangerous and often cutthroat world of bobsledding to earn a spot on the medal-contending USA 1 sled.

Kreitzburg is a "push" athlete and will serve as the brakeman on a four-man sled driven by 2002 silver medalist Todd Hays. The four-man bobsled is scheduled for Feb. 24-25, two days before the closing ceremonies.

"I thought he was crazy," said his mother, Lynn Brummond, of his choice to return to a sport he first tried in 2001. "Brock had his whole life mapped out and decided he was going to change it for the bobsled.

"Basically, he gave up his life for this. He put everything on hold. He told me, 'Mom, this is my dream.' I had no choice but to support him."

The Norton, Ohio, home of Lynn and Gary Brummond is now a tribute to a dream realized. A large sign wishing Kreitzburg and his Olympic teammates good luck adorns the front lawn. An Olympic flag hangs above the garage door.

Friends and neighbors who don't know a bobsled from a Soap Box Derby car are swept up in the excitement. Kreitzburg's sister, Ashley Chicatelli, and brother, Logan, are preparing to host a party at Scorchers in the Merriman Valley on Feb. 25, the night of the four-man finals.

"I am so happy for him," said Logan, 28. "For those people who thought Brock was wasting his time, this shuts all his critics up. My brother is an Olympian. How many people can say that?"

It has been a long, sometimes difficult journey of faith for Kreitzburg, who graduated with a master's in divinity and was working as a chaplain at a retirement community in Charlotte. Sacrifices have been many.

Money has been scarce. Long-term relationships have been almost impossible with a travel schedule demanding four months of each year be spent competing in Europe. When his best friend, John Ventura, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, Kreitzburg could not immediately come home to comfort him.

"When I made the decision, I knew there would be hardships. I told myself I was going to be single and I was going to be poor," said Kreitzburg, who relocated to Calgary, site of the only North American bobsled push facility with about $1,000 in savings in 2003.

Kreitzburg was recruited into bobsledding in 2001 while working out at a Charlotte fitness center. Bobsled is considered a second-chance sport in the United States, a way for an athlete to extend his career. The fact Kreitzburg occasionally becomes carsick, and crashed twice in his first two days of training in Lake Placid, N.Y., demonstrates how badly he wanted his career extended.

He had been a competitor from his days growing up and playing youth baseball on the same team with three-time Super Bowl champion Mike Vrabel. His speed, precision and work ethic transformed him into a standout football and track athlete. The 6-foot, 210-pound receiver earned a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999.

Kreitzburg proved trouble only to opponents assigned the task of guarding him. He didn't smoke or drink. His mother recalls him getting home before she did after Walsh Jesuit High School's Friday night football games. A pleasant yet private person, he grew more devout after his father died of cancer when Kreitzburg was 13. Few were surprised he chose to attend Gordon-Conwell seminary school after college.

Kreitzburg enjoyed his duties as a retirement center chaplain. He often internalized his problems - he claims he didn't make peace with his father's death until his mid-20s - and his position of leadership as chaplain forced him to become more outgoing.

But the competitive fires still burned. As a receiver one of his best attributes was knowing when to break off a pass route and come back to the ball. It proved to be a transferable skill. In the spring of 2003 he resigned from the retirement center.

"I was taking a leap of faith," Kreitzburg said.

His mother, who attended a farewell reception thrown by residents, thought he was making a mistake. Ashley and Logan were all for it.

"The life experiences he has gained he would never come across in a 40-hour-a-week job," Ashley said.

Kreitzburg found early success in bobsledding. He made the national team. He competed all over Europe. He qualified for the Home Depot Olympic Employment Program, which pays him a full-time salary in exchange for part-time employment while he trains.

Kreitzburg not only worked his way onto USA II but was recruited by Hays to join the more prestigious USA I. A month ago, Kreitzburg took another risk, leaving USA II driver Steve Holcomb's sled for an opportunity to slide with Hays and knowing that if it didn't work, he might be out of the Olympic mix altogether.

Kreitzburg has won World Cup gold and silver medals in his first two four-man races with Hays, Pavle Jovanovic and Steve Mesler.

As he leaves Monday for Torino, Kreitzburg concedes the decision he made in the spring of 2003 was one of the toughest and, ultimately, most rewarding.

His mother agrees.

"Brock deserves all of this," said Lynn, who along with her husband is traveling to Torino. "To think my son is an Olympian. It's just amazing to say it."



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