For the last year, Emily Sweeney, age 25, who grew up in Suffield, has been slowly recovering from injuries sustained at the last Olympic Games during her last run on the Pyeongchang, South Korea, luge track. It has been a long road to recovery, but an impressive one.
For the first six months after her accident, she was unable to do much more than light walking as exercise, and then it took another six months for the ligaments to heal around a broken bone in her back and one in her neck.
Emily is still in the Army with the rank of Sergeant and is part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). According to the Army’s website, WCAP allows top-ranked soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military. WCAP Soldiers come from the Active, Reserve and National Guard components and are selected for their ability to perform at the highest level of their sports.
Her training began in earnest in October, 2018. She can’t do the amount of weight training she was used to even yet, but progress continues. Emily’s first race back was in December, 2018, in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, where she took a bronze medal in the luge. On January 26, she won the bronze at the World Championships at Winterberg, Germany, only the third time an American woman has won the world championship in luge. She decided not to participate in the luge competition in Latvia in mid-January because the G-force on at least one of the curves would be too much stress on her neck and back.
The World Championship is a single race for each luge discipline (ladies, men and doubles) and it takes place only in the three non-Olympic years.
The World Cup is a series of races (nine this year) that make up the luge season. Athletes must qualify to race in each one, and there are points awarded based on where an athlete finishes in the race. The points are totaled across all races, and an overall World Cup leader is named each season. The World Cup is the highest-level season-long competition in the sport. Emily has participated in four of the events and is currently ranked #10 in the overall World Cup results, despite missing four races.
At this writing, Emily is in Sochi, Russia in preparation for the next World Cup event at the end of February. The participants get four practice runs as part of their preparation to run the luge track. That equates to about four minutes of total time to “get to know” the track down which she will be hurtling. Weather plays a significant role in the surface of each track, and no two tracks are exactly alike, so conditions can change daily. Lugers can approach speeds as high as 90 miles an hour. In the most recent luge World Championships, the winner had an average speed of about 80 miles per hour!
Emily will be back in the States in early March. Emily and her family would like to express their thanks for the wonderful support and encouragement they have received, not only from their family and friends, but from the wider Suffield community, as well.
Best of luck to Emily on her road to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.