HE UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS “IMPORTANT TO SHOW UP FOR PEOPLE”
Whether it was his closest friends and teammates or young fans who cheered him on at a World Cup race, Steven Holcomb made everyone around him feel special and included. The Holcomb I knew — that those in the sliding community knew — was never too important, or too good, or too busy, for anyone. Steve was the guy who showed up at a teammate’s Army promotion even after a day filled with the demands of sled testing and preparing for an out-of-town speaking event, just because he understood that it was “important to show up for people.” The teammate who would high-five fans at the finish line after every run of every race — and who, when prompted, would drop his warmup routine without question in favor of his trademark ‘Holcy Dance.’ The man who could fix anything tech-related and befriend anyone, and who could stand atop an Olympic podium, the world at his feet, and still exude humbleness and sincerity.
HE WAS ALWAYS READY FOR JUST ONE MORE RUN…
I was lucky enough to get to know Steve on a professional, and to some extent, a personal level. He was nice enough to include me on the last day of training this season when he took two of our skeleton athletes down the track in his four-man sled. As it was the was the last day of training, most of the athletes had gone home, taking advantage of the too-short break between season ending and offseason training beginning. But not Holcomb. Even after a grueling season, he was always ready for just one more run, even if it was just to allow people to live his everyday thrill for the first time. Afterwards, he joked that he didn’t know how the run would go, since we were so much lighter than any three of his brakemen, but he hadn’t wanted to tell us that at the top. We, of course, made it down completely safely, and never had any doubt that it would end up any other way. As an added display of confidence, none of us were wearing burn vests.
You’d feel just as comfortable in Holcomb’s presence as you did in his sled. He possessed a quiet genuineness that meant he never had to say a word, yet you knew he was listening when you spoke to him. His silence was never awkward. Steve was also defined by his quick wit and quirky sense of humor — a teammate and close friend said one of the things she’d miss most about him was his “laugh that’d scrunch up his whole face.” We all miss that laugh.
“MOM, IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY. JUST LOOK AT THIS DAY.”
Getting to know someone through the eyes of others is, I’ve discovered, a beautiful and rare thing. I have found myself in a position that, while heavy and unbelievably sad at times, allows me to listen to those who were closest to him relive their favorite memories. His mother, Jean, told a story of his childhood, when she and Steve would ride their bicycles through their neighborhood. She always worried he’d run into a mailbox for lack of paying attention to the road while he gazed out toward the Park City mountains, constantly saying “Mom, it’s such a beautiful day. Just look at this day.” This story is so classically Holcomb. It aligns so perfectly with the Holcomb that I knew, because even after decades of piloting a sled, he never lost that sense of wonder.
The sliding community is difficult to explain. It’s so tight-knit, such a family, that it makes you grateful every day just to be a small part of it. Holcomb, however, was a huge part of it, not just in the United States, but globally as well. In the weeks following his passing, we received letters from around the world, from places like Liechtenstein and Russia and Croatia and Brazil. Everyone had a memory to share, everyone had a piece of Steve that they wanted to make sure wasn’t forgotten. It is for this reason that I know his legacy, the incredible impact that he had on the sport, but more importantly, on the people around him, will live on forever. His story will be told.
WE DON’T TAKE VACATIONS…
At our National Team Camp this past June, one of the federation’s coaches relayed a story about an email thread with Holcomb and some of the coaching staff that took place just days before his passing. When one coach joked about a vacation, he responded, immediately and with all the quiet seriousness and simultaneous charisma of Holcomb: “We don’t take vacations.”
He’s right. Especially in an Olympic year, with the Games speeding toward us at an alarming pace, we can’t afford to lose focus. We must remember, but cannot dwell, because with all that has happened, the upcoming Games now carry with them a larger purpose: Honoring not only the most dominant driver in USA Bobsled history, but also a teammate, friend, and true champion in every sense of the word. Wherever he is right now, Steve wants his teammates at the top of the Olympic podium in February, and when they get there, he’ll know.
THAT IS WHERE HE WAS MEANT TO BE…
I think that’s the biggest and most profound realization that I’ve come to over the past three months, listening to those who knew him best paint a picture of a man with whom I had the privilege to become acquainted: Even though he’s gone, he’s not, and he never will be. His story persists and continues to drive the team and the federation forward. But more than that, his presence remains at the forefront of the global bobsled community, and it will live on as we approach PyeongChang and beyond.
Steve will be with us as the first snowflakes of winter fall and the track hardens with ice for the first time next season. He’ll be there when the Olympic Team is selected, and alongside his teammates as they walk through the tunnel at Opening Ceremonies with the momentum of an entire country backing them. And whether an American tops the podium in PyeongChang or not, Steve will be there with them. Because that is where he was meant to be.
Author: Kristin Gowdy, USA Bobsled & Skeleton Association
Photogrphy: CJ Gunther New England Regional Staff Photographer (european pressphoto agency)