As Sgt. Nick Cunningham trains his body for his third (and maybe final) Olympics in a USA bobsled, his mind and heart will wander back to the Central California coast.
To mom and dad, Tim and Wendy Cunningham, and longtime girlfriend Sydney Daniel, all residing in Monterey. To Monterey Peninsula College, where he earned his associates degree three years after graduating from Monterey High School in 2003.
"This is home. I have so much support here, I know what this area has done for me, and I want to give back," he said.
After Christmas and New Years with family and friends in California, Cunningham headed back to Lake Placid, New York, for racing, training and practice ahead of the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 9-25.
A member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), Cunningham joined the Army in 2012 after his experience in the 2010 Winter Games. He was a pusher then for driver Mike Kohn, a Virginia Army National Guard captain and now a coach for USA Bobsled.
"Mike Kohn really sold the program to me. He was my driver in 2010 and went to a meeting he was having for WCAP," Cunningham said. "Next thing I know I'm signing up for the Army. "They sold me that much on how WCAP is the team behind the team and I really wouldn't have been able to compete past 2014 without it."
Now at work in frigid Lake Placid, Cunningham likes the teamwork he has in the two-man and four-man sleds. His concern is for his equipment.
"I'm getting a new four-man sled and we need to get that dialed in," he said.
The US Olympic team's three drivers are Cunningham, WCAP's Sgt. Justin Olsen and Codie Bascue.
Ten years after he began his U.S. bobsled career as an alternate pusher, the 32-year old Cunningham is beginning to see his post-competition life.
"I used the GI Bill to get my masters in athletic coaching education from Ohio University so that I'm ready for what's next," he said.
He plans on returning to his roots.
"I'm looking forward to giving back here in Monterey, being with Syd. She's been very supportive of me," Cunningham said. "My mom does everything; she's pretty much my agent."
Taking that step however, giving up athletic competition at the highest level won't be easy, he admits.
"My whole life has been goal setting and reaching these goals," Cunningham said. "Trust me, if I would've won an Olympic gold medal like (Steve) Holcomb, I would've been gone. If I would've won bronze (like Kohn), I would've been gone."
Olympic glory is both permanent (one has that medal forever) and fleeting.
Kohn's last competition was 2010, eight years after his Olympic bronze in Salt Lake City. A WCAP Soldier from 1999-2006, Holcomb earned the only U.S. men's bobsled gold since 1948 in Vancouver in 2010. He roomed next to Cunningham in Lake Placid, and died in his sleep in May 2017, from a combination of sleeping medication and alcohol.
Holcomb will be an inescapable presence in Korea for U.S. Bobsled. Cunningham says he will honor Steve's legacy while knowing that Steve's Olympic void is irreplaceable.
"After this Olympics, everything I do from here out, I have to continue to push myself. The athletic career will end and I have to be prepared for that," Cunningham said. "Syd and I have talked about so many paths, how to beat the post-career depression, what's next."
What's immediately next for him is the two-man bobsled competition Feb. 18-19, then driving the four-man sled Feb. 24-25. Then it's March and whatever's next.
"I see all the doors being open for me … I've been looking at athletic director jobs, coaching jobs," Cunningham said. "I want to get some professional work experience before making any decisions about competing for the 2022 Olympics."