By Susan A. Merkner, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandJanuary 30, 2018
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- If, as William Shakespeare said, "Clothes make the man," then Sgt. Nick Cunningham's wardrobe reflects a man accomplished in two realms: the U.S. Army and the Winter Olympics.
Cunningham, 32, a member of the U.S. men's two-man and four-man bobsled teams, joined the Army in 2011 and earned a spot in the World Class Athlete Program, which is operated by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command. The native of Monterey, California, is a construction masonry engineer in the Army.
"When I put on my uniform for the first time in basic training, I felt a sense of pride I had never imagined," Cunningham said. "Having the word Army across my chest is something I definitely don't take for granted."
Speaking from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where the U.S. bobsled team is practicing, Cunningham said they were "training smart so we can keep our continuity" two weeks before the opening ceremonies in PyeongChang, South Korea.
One of the more experienced athletes on the team, Cunningham is making his third trip to the Winter Games with hopes of medaling. He was a member of the 2010 and 2014 men's bobsled teams at the Olympics and has been a member of the U.S. World Team four times.
Unlike many WCAP participants, Cunningham already was an Olympic athlete when he joined, after learning about the program from a teammate. Cunningham attended his first WCAP meeting with a healthy dose of skepticism.
"I had not really ever seen myself in the military, and frankly, I went to the [WCAP] meeting trying to find some faults with the program. I was thinking, what's the catch? But as I met people, I realized I wanted to be part of this family. I never thought I'd feel this way about the military. No other program could be as good as this," he said.
"WCAP is a group of people who support each other and work together. Without WCAP, I couldn't do this."
The novelty of being an Olympic athlete never wears off, Cunningham said, and now he is looking forward to sharing the experience with his 2018 teammates.
"I'll always remember my first Olympics as such a special time. You're going through it with your team. You're on the world stage to compete. You're part of a small fraternity of athletes -- that title is something no one can ever take away from you. It's such an incredible moment when you step into the arena with the U.S. team and everyone cheers," he said.
"Our team this year has several first-time Olympians, as well as some attending for the third time. It's going to be great."
Both his Army duties and his athletic responsibilities have a foundation of preparation which leads to readiness and resiliency, Cunningham said.
"Success is 95 percent preparation and readiness, being in the moment, and 5 percent luck. In bobsled, your luck depends on many things: decisions made, the weather, and when a course has 20 turns ─ and you run it four times ─ that's 80 corners for each event."
A Soldier's level of readiness in the Army has real-life consequences, and working in a small bobsled squad shares some similarities.
"The Army taught me realistic goal setting, how to set smaller goals for yourself and then work up to the biggest ones. The Army also teaches preparation and how to overcome adversity, and that plays a role in our sport, too -- readiness and being ready to go."
Although Cunningham's family attended the 2010 and 2014 games to cheer him on, they are not able to make the trip to Korea this year. So he has planned for that scenario.
"My community back home and my family is my backbone," he said. "In a sport of no constants, my family is my constant. They always make me feel grounded. It definitely helps."
While in PyeongChang next month, "I'm going to focus on the goals that I'm there to achieve," he said. "We can celebrate afterwards."
The Army MWR program staff in Monterey also is very encouraging, Cunningham said.
"There's a sense of community pride in what I'm doing. Win or lose, they're behind me -- well, especially if I win. It's nice to feel that. My brothers and sisters in the military are very supportive. I understand that I represent a whole group of people when I step onto that starting block.
"The Olympic uniform and the Army uniform represent something bigger than yourself."