MILWAUKEE -- It was a freezing cold, windy and overcast afternoon at the top of the hill, but the roar of the crowd in Winterberg, Germany, drowned out the noise from the wind for the bobsledder.
Lake Kwaza was the brakeman for the World Cup debut four-woman bobsled team in the winter of 2018.
She recalls a blur of thousands of fans as she rushed past them around a tight turn during the race. She said that in Europe, bobsledding is as popular as football in the United States.
Kwaza, Olympic hopeful bobsledder and Sycamore, Illinois, native, joined the Army as a wheeled vehicle mechanic April 9.
Upon completion of her training, she will become part of the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program.
WCAP allows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the Army. Since 1948, 446 Soldiers have represented the United States at the Olympics and have earned 111 medals in a wide variety of sports. WCAP Soldiers are selected for their ability to perform at the highest level in their sport and to compete in international events.
Kwaza said she found out about the WCAP after talking with other bobsledders. Several other competitors were already serving in the Army with the WCAP.
She said that bobsledding involves a lot of expensive travel and equipment. Becoming part of the WCAP will help her pay for those costs.
Kwaza is scheduled to travel to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for Army Basic Training before Memorial Day. After basic training, she will travel to Fort Lee, Virginia, for her job training.
She has two brothers who are currently serving in the Army. One is stationed in Germany and the other is stationed in Colorado. She said they didn't like the idea of her joining the Army when she initially told them.
"They consider me fragile," Kwaza said.
They wanted to protect her. When she told them about the WCAP and how it could help her achieve her Olympic dreams, they warmed up to the idea. She said her mom was excited about her joining the Army. She already had two sons who were serving and understood the Army is a great way to help her get to the Olympics.
Kwaza was not always a bobsledder. She played soccer and ran track in high school. At the University of Iowa, she ran on the track team on a partial scholarship with the Hawkeyes.
She said the Olympic bobsled team recruits a lot of athletes from college track teams. Michael Dionne, the coach and director of athlete development at the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, spoke with her in 2016 about becoming a bobsledder after he saw her run a 200 meter race.
Kwaza said she initially declined the offer because she wasn't done with track. She asked him to keep her phone number and ask her again later.
"Literally a year later he called back," she said.
She was getting over an injury at the time and said it was "a sign from God to transfer," and decided to try out for the bobsled team. She went through the combine, which is a series of tests to qualify for the team.
She is currently the brakeman, or the one who pushes from the back of the sled at the beginning of the race and stops the sled at the end, for the two-woman World Cup National Bobsled Team with her teammate, three-time Olympic medalist, Elana Meyers Taylor. She is also training to become a bobsled pilot.
Kwaza graduated from the University of Iowa in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Recreation Sports Management.
She said she had thought about joining the Army since high school, and even considered attending West Point. The disciplined lifestyle of being a Soldier, "is the perfect fit for me."
"I am excited about my journey and to add another uniform to my life," Kwaza said.
After completing her Army training, Kwaza will spend her time training with the U.S. bobsled team in Lake Placid, New York, going to competitions every weekend during the season from November through March and doing community outreach for the Army.