By Jordan Hall
On the prowl for jobs as graduation neared, Jazmine Fenlator didn’t imagine a bobsled or a shot at the 2010 Winter Olympics to be in the picture. The 2007 journalism graduate left Rider with a job at Johnson & Johnson promised for the fall, but amazingly enough, found herself racing down an icy course instead.
Fenlator, a former track and field standout for the Broncs, is now a member of the USA national bobsled team, but unfortunately will have to wait until 2014 for her next chance at making the Winter Olympics.
In women’s bobsledding, there are only two participants in each sled. One person controls the driving of the sled and the second commands the brakes.
Fenlator entered the preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic games as a brakeman, but with the talent and balance of the competition for the USA team, she knew her chances at this year’s games were slim.
“As our season kicked off, the depth of the U.S. women’s team this year was incredible, and all the athletes were very competitive with each other,” she said.
Fenlator had already planned on switching to the driving position whether she competed in these games or not, but after recognizing her shot at this year’s Olympics had started to dissolve, she decided to hop in the driver’s seat and work on those skills for the next Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
How in the world did Fenlator get into bobsledding? A coach saw something that he thought she was a perfect fit for. That man was Rider’s former track and field head coach, Rob Pasquariello.
“I knew several track and field athletes had made successful transitions to bobsled, and I thought Jaz would be interested in a new competitive challenge,” Pasquariello said. “I thought her blend of strength, speed and power would translate well to becoming a push athlete for bobsled.”
To this day, Fenlator is forever grateful.
“The success I have seen in my athletic career, from college track through to bobsled, has a great deal to do with the influences and coaching of Robert Pasquariello,” she said. “He is one of the main reasons why I tried out for the bobsled team and am still pursuing my dream to be an Olympian.”
Pasquariello helped guide and train Fenlator through the early stages of her bobsledding career, and it paid dividends.
“I was able to make large improvements in my physical test,” she said. “I still consult with him on different things regarding my training, nutrition and athletic career objectives.”
At first, Fenlator turned down the first tryout camp because she was focusing on finishing her track and field career at Rider. Then summer came around and before she knew it, she was finished with her rookie combine test and aiming for the Olympics.
Fenlator came to Rider as an athletic young woman with great track and field potential. The Wayne Valley High School graduate excelled in throwing events and left her mark at Rider by setting school records for the indoor shot put, outdoor shot put, hammer and discus while being named an all-time top 25 athlete in the MAAC. Fenlator attributes a lot of her success in the bobsled to the hard work put in as an athlete at Rider.
“My track and field training regimen was very similar to the training needed to be a great bobsledder,” she said. “I already had a great base in Olympic lifting, explosive power and attention to detail and technique from being a multi-event track athlete.”
Fenlator has a strong grasp of how everything works in the sled and how to break down a course, but she admits that it wasn’t the smoothest transition early on.
“My first season while I was on the Europa Cup Tour in Europe, our first trip in training we crashed fairly aggressively and I was sliding about half a mile upside down hanging on to the sled as hard as I could,” she said. “I had an intense pinching feeling in my back and my right leg went numb. I was diagnosed with a severe contusion and two herniated discs in my back.”
The course for this Winter Olympics in Vancouver is used by three sports: bobsled, luge and skeleton. It also had some controversy. A tragic accident occurred during a training run by luge participant, Nodar Kumaritashvili from the Republic of Georgia. Kumaritashvili had a severe crash and died, forcing major changes on the course and putting a damper on the opening of the Olympics.
“I think the tragedy of Nodar’s death really hit home for the sliding community (luge, skeleton and bobsled) as well as all athletes involved with the Olympic movement,” she said. “I will have to be very focused and confident as well as deliberate with what I do driving on that course. There is not much room for error and I can imagine that I would be fairly nervous.”
With all the hard work, training and passion for bobsledding, Fenlator has left her former Bronc teammates and friends extremely proud. Current senior track and field member, Jennifer Alksmant, couldn’t be happier for Fenlator.
“I think she’s doing great,” she said. “She’s had to get through a lot of things to get where she is. Her family and friends are all so proud of her and miss her a lot.”
Fenlator will spend this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., continuing her training at the Olympic Training Center. But she will pay extra close to attention to her teammates in Vancouver as they get the chance of a lifetime to compete for an Olympic medal.
“I am honored and proud to support my teammates that have made it,” she said. “I am rooting for them and wishing them all the best of luck.”
Fenlator has made the journey from the track field to the bobsled. Now she hopes she’ll make the trip to the podium for some Olympic hardware.