FORT JACKSON, SC -- Before coming to Fort Jackson to train in the sweltering heat, Pfc. Joseph Mortensen spent his days sliding down frozen luge tracks around the world.

Mortensen, 21, Company E, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, competed internationally in luge, a sport in which athletes race on sleds down a mile or so long track with speeds up to 90 mph.

"It is the biggest adrenaline rush of your life," said Mortensen, who is in his seventh week of Basic Combat Training.

The luge athlete, who began the sport at the age of nine, missed the 2010 Winter Olympics by one slot on Team USA.

"I loved the fact that when I woke up I was competing against the world's best," said Mortensen, whose military occupational specialty is 21R, interior electrician.
Mortensen said he is planning to make a run for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"It is a very mentally and physically challenging sport," he said. "The training is very much like BCT. We do a lot of push-ups, V ups (an abdominal exercise) and pretty much anything you can think of that works the upper body."

In addition to upper-body strength, the sport requires the ability to completely relax the body with controlled breathing - some of the same skills required for marksmanship.

Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., begins each season training at Lake Placid, N.Y., before venturing to luge tracks across Europe and Canada.

"Each track has its own unique personality and requires a different approach," he said. "I loved traveling to the different tracks and experiencing different cultures. Some of the things I have seen (such as Berchtesgaden's Eagles Nest and castles) I had only read about. It was kind of an overwhelming experience."

Mortensen got into the sport as a youth because his father worked for Verizon, who was the major luge sponsor at the time.

"I was a pretty active youngster," Mortensen said. "I first started sliding when I was 9 years old, and my father was able to introduce my brother and I to the sport."

Although the sport of luge is relatively new, sled racing is one of the oldest sports dating back to the Vikings. The word, "luge," is French for sled.

The most important aspect of a luge run is the start, Mortensen said, where athletes push off and gain momentum by paddling their hands, which are covered with spiked gloves.

"You pick up speed when you go into corners, but your body has to be completely relaxed," Mortensen said. "The tighter the curve, the more pressure that is released and the faster you go. How smooth you steer also determines your speed going around corners."

Luge athletes steer their sleds with the calf of each leg or by exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat.

The sport is not without its dangers. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a training run accident.

"That accident had a big impact on the sport, and speeds were reduced to prevent future fatalities," Mortensen said.

Besides sliding down a frozen track on his back, Mortensen was a three-sport athlete in high school where he participated in wrestling, baseball and soccer. He said he joined the Army National Guard to help aid in the fight in Afghanistan.

All in all, Mortensen said he is enjoying his time at Fort Jackson.

"Where I am from, I am not used to this kind of heat. If it was a dry heat it would be OK. But this is brutal," he said. "Overall though, I am having a good time."