Every year March is designated as Women’s History Month to honor women’s contributions in American history, and every four years, female athletes from around the globe represent their countries by competing in the Olympics. This year, Army Sgt. Emily Sweeney will participate in both as she describes strides women have made in professional sports and trains to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Sweeney, a native of Suffield, Connecticut, is a lifelong luger and Soldier athlete assigned to the World Class Athlete Program, an Army unit stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. WCAP provides a two-fold opportunity for Soldier athletes to represent and serve their country at the same time.
Sgt. Sweeney began her athletic journey with the strongest women she knows.
“My older sister was also a luge athlete, and my mom was a female working her way through the corporate world,” she said. “So I have had a lot of strong female presences in my life from the beginning.”
She also had a strong support system from her father, who was a stay-at-home dad.
“He always instilled confidence in me with the attitude ‘all you need is to believe you can do it’ – whether you can or not, make an attempt,” she said.
The support from her family while training and competing as a luger during her childhood and teenage years carried her into adulthood, when she joined the New York National Guard upon graduating from Suffield High School in 2011.
“I do not come from a military family,” she said. “My coach was involved in WCAP and he opened my eyes. I knew I wanted to be an athlete, but I saw an opportunity to grow in other areas in my life. The Army allowed me to pursue my dreams as an athlete and work toward a future for myself.”
She enlisted in the guard as a military police officer. Over the last 10 years, she has trained and competed as Soldier athlete on five World Cup teams, four World Championship teams and an Olympic team.
In 2018 she suffered a frightening crash, resulting in multiple injuries, after losing control on a final turn at 75 mph during the Pyeongchang Olympics. Sweeney broke her neck and back, but 11 months later she was a bronze medalist at the world championships.
“Having the accident and being a Soldier at the same time, I feel like I have since received a master class in resiliency,” she said. “We teach it to our Soldiers all the time, but ‘resiliency’ is so universal we have to allow ourselves ways to internalize it. The Army and my leaders taught me how to build habits and the confidence that carries you back to success.”
She has continued to find success as a Soldier and athlete while inspiring others along the way.
“Recently while training in Salt Lake City, a family with two young girls [lugers] visited and one previously suffered a concussion, but my story provided admiration and encouragement,” she recalled. “Another time, I was home doing yardwork and a mother stopped by to tell me her 13-year-old daughter saw me crash and get back up, and said ‘I want to be a tough woman like her.”
In honor of Women`s History Month, Sweeney recently described the strides of women in professional sports.
“Women have been represented well in the past, but there is a whole new conversation going on right now,” she said. “We see it in women`s hockey, tennis, soccer – everywhere. There is this drive of women celebrating other women, and that’s really exciting to see – a new narrative of women competing longer. You can now become a mom and continue playing the sport you love.”
Sweeney continues to train with WCAP in preparation for team trials scheduled in October for qualification to the World Cup team, which will then compete to qualify for a chance at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.