Gokie competes for US Bobsled team
The question from her coach came innocently enough.
“Hey Kylie, do you want to go to Canada and compete with the US Bobsled team?”
So Kylie Gokie ’17, thinking it was just a joke, played along.
“Oh yeah, definitely, Ed. No problem. Sign me up. I’m in.”
Little did the first-year know but this work study period would be a little different than the rest.
What she perceived to be a prank from Doane College Track and Field Coach Ed Fye was far from it—Kylie was about to go from student work study to Team USA competitor.
The highly-touted track and field athlete out of Lincoln got her first taste of post-high school competition last week through the seemingly innocuous comment. It came at the highest level, no less, with Team USA at the North American Cup Series bobsled and skeleton races north of the border last week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where Kylie joined US bobsledder Nicole Vogt for three days of training and two days of competition.
One second the Lincoln Southwest High graduate was sitting in Fye’s office, getting ready to tend to odds and ends for the Tiger track program.
“Next thing I know I’m getting my passport and going to Canada,” Kylie said.
Coach Fye happened to know the aunt of Vogt, who was looking for an athlete interested in filling in her two-person sled in Calgary while her usual teammate was off training in Russia. Playing along with the prank was all it took for the first-year to take a life-changing trip.
She left Nebraska on Nov. 10 and started training the next day with Vogt and six other American athletes. Kylie learned bobsledding on the fly—literally.
“On the first day we were running really late so we get up to the track and, as we were walking over to the start line, they were explaining to me what to do,” Kylie said. “They basically told me, ‘Just do it and it will come naturally,’ which wasn’t entirely true.”
Kylie filled in as the brakeman, seated in the back of the sled, while Vogt steered as pilot.
“As a brakeman, your job is to push the sled at the beginning, obviously, and then you jump in, hold on for dear life and pull the brakes at the end,” Kylie said.
And the experience of whizzing through a bobsled track isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not exactly a smooth ride. Speeds can reach 80 miles per hour. Wearing just a speed suit and helmet, too, doesn’t keep riders from getting their share of bumps and bruises.
“It was terrifying. I’m just like every outsider going into it, that it looks so simple on TV,” Kylie said. “You ride in a sled down a track. How hard is that? But it was actually one of the most painful things ever.”
And even if the experience in the sled was a bit harrowing, she has come out on the other side of the experience no worse for the wear, save for some bruises incurred in practice and competition. The duo finished 13th out of 16 entrants but Kylie helped Vogt – who’s a few years into her bobsled career – reach her fastest-ever time, clocking in at one-minute, 57.26 seconds last Friday.
Off of the track, Kylie stayed with other Team USA athletes, hanging out in a condo and eating dinner together. After all the competition was done on that Friday, they went out on the town.
On the track, she found herself shoulder-to-shoulder with athletes from a handful of other countries. In the bobsled races she participated in, athletes from Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Russia and South Korea were, too.
It’s funny, in a way, that Kylie found herself in an arena of professional international athletes, wearing red, white and blue before she ever donned black and orange to compete at the college level for Doane.
“It is a whole different world than high school and I assume collegiate because people are older and this is their life,” Kylie said of the bobsledders. “This is their job. They compete. This is what their passion is in life and they take it very seriously. Most countries, there’s not a whole lot of joking around. It’s a lot of business.”
So when Kylie returned to Nebraska over the past weekend, the experience started to sink in a little more. Sure, when she was warming up last Thursday, the first day of competition, with the Olympic rings and a giant Canadian flag in the background, it started to sink in.
“That’s just kind of when it hit me and I realized how absolutely insane the entire thing was.”
But now, a few days removed from what can only have been surreal, she is looking back through an even wider lens. The chance at the opportunity traced itself all the way back to Crete, where her relationship with Fye – who she knew before college – led her to choose Doane despite having several scholarship offers to NCAA Division I programs.
It’s an example of why Doane is a college of connections.
“It just kind of showed me that there’s going to be so many opportunities to try stuff like this out there,” Kylie said.
A multi-event track competitor by trade, Kylie is used to learning different skills for different events. As a standout in the heptathlon, she’s a constant learner, fine-tuning her sprints, distance running, jumping and throwing.
When she was challenged with learning bobsledding for a week, she was ready.
“When someone throws something like bobsledding (at you), I’m kind of used to…trying all different kinds of things,” Kylie said.
So now Kylie can say, in just her first semester at college, that she’s competed with some of the world’s best in bobsledding.
Seriously, though. She’s not joking.