Feb. 14, 2002
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A broken foot ended one Olympic trip for Doug Sharp in 1996. Six years later, he credits the break for helping him earn a spot on the U.S. bobsled team.
Sharp, now an assistant track coach at the University of Louisville, was working toward the U.S. Olympic pole vaulting team when he broke the foot during a track meet at the University of Illinois.
His physical therapist was a two-time team leader for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. During their sessions, the therapist mentioned that Sharp was the perfect size and speed for bobsled.
Now Sharp is headed to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"I was 9 years old and can remember watching the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians in 1980. It was an incredible upset," he said. "That's when I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics."
Sharp, who lives in Jeffersonville, Ind., helped build Louisville's pole vaulting teams in 1997. He's also been competing in bobsled competitions through the Army's World Class Athletes Program.
Sharp was invited to take part in the military program during his first year of racing in 1998. After completing boot camp, his assigned tour of duty was training for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.
"I'll owe the Army one more year after the games, which will probably include a speaking tour about my experience," Sharp said.
Sharp, who grew up in Alpena, Mich., tells tales of spraying down the streets in his neighborhood with a hose during winter so he and his friends could build a hockey rink and a bobsled course. He remembers one course was 10 feet high, requiring a stepladder to reach the start.
"We used to get in a lot of trouble, but it was all in fun," he said.
An all-state high school football player and hockey star in Michigan, Sharp set aside his hopes of becoming an Olympic hockey player after he discovered pole vaulting.
In 1996, he vaulted 18 feet, 5 inches, his best ever. That year, a jump of 18-10 would give an athlete an automatic bid to compete in the Olympic trials. His top college jump was 17-7.
"I probably would have qualified for the 1996 games, but I broke my foot before I was able to compete," said Sharp. "I didn't think I would get another opportunity."
Enter Dr. Dave Juehring. The physical therapist suggested Sharp give bobsledding a try. Sharp, who had a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology from Purdue, decided instead to further his education.
In 1997, he earned a doctorate in chiropractic medicine from Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa. He then worked at a practice in Elizabethtown, Ky., for about a year before realizing how much he missed competing.
"I was feeling my athleticism slipping away from me," Sharp said. "My parents had moved to Jeffersonville, so I moved in with them and gave Dr. Juehring a call. Two months later, I was racing in Europe."
Sharp earned a spot as a pusher and brakeman on the team of driver Brian Shimer, a four-time Olympian.
Louisville men's track coach, Gene Weis, said he's not surprised that Sharp, who bench-presses 440 pounds, made it to Salt Lake City.
"He's overwhelmingly strong for his size, and his speed is unbelievable," Weis said. "He likes living life out on the edge. He likes the excitement. And when he puts his mind to something, he does it."
When Sharp came to the university, Weis said there basically was not a pole vaulting team. That didn't stop Sharp. He built a pit, which can cost up to $15,000, brought in his own vaulting equipment and began training the student athletes.
"The first year we competed we had a female finish second at the conference meet," Weis said. "Since then we've expanded the program and it's one of the best events in the track and field program."
On Feb. 22-23, Sharp will race against the best bobsledding teams in the world. About 20 family members and friends will be there to cheer him on.
But Sharp knows he's already won.
"This is something I've wanted all my life," he said. "I just want to live my life to the fullest."