ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Jan. 18, 2011) -- Team USA bobsled pilot Sgt. Shauna Rohbock is back in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program for what may be her farewell tour on the World Cup circuit.
Rohbock teamed with brakeman Valerie Fleming to win the women's gold medal Jan. 14, at the World Cup event in Igls, Austria, where the U.S. duo prevailed by .09 seconds over Germany's Anja Scheiderheinze and Christin Senkel.
"If you ask anybody what track the push is the most important on, they would all say Igls," Rohbock said. "And today I got beat by over a tenth [of a second] at the start. To win here after being beat by over a tenth is unheard of - it doesn't happen."
Rohbock and Fleming are competing this season in a sled designed by Ollie Brower, a former soapbox derby competitor, and Todd Hays, who won a silver medal in the four-man competition at the 2002 Olympic Games.
"He drove it last year and was doing really well until he ended up crashing and couldn't continue," Rohbock said in reference to the sled Hays was forced to retire from because of a career-ending head injury. "This year, I really wanted to drive it because they ended up testing it against my sled and it was definitely faster."
Rohbock credits the change in sleds for her final-season surge.
"I'm driving the same lines I used to before, but it goes on and off curves so smooth," she said. "It's just a whole different feeling in the sled. It's just so much smoother and quieter. It's been pretty good on all the tracks.
"You have to look at the sled and be like, 'Wow, they definitely have something here.'"
Rohbock drove sleds designed by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine for eight consecutive years before making the switch for her final season.
"I told Todd all summer long that I really wanted to drive his sled, but if this is going to be my last year, obviously I want to do well," Rohbock said. "Especially on this track here [in Igls], everything is like fine-tuning, the little things make you faster - but it's not going to be faster if I can't drive it."
Rohbock made her competitive debut in Hays' sled in Lake Placid, N.Y., where "it was flying and I took second in one race and crashed in the other," she said.
"I can't believe I crashed in Lake Placid," she said. "I've never had a problem in this curve. I crashed out of Turn 12. But if you asked me where would you crash at Placid, I would say [curves] 7-8 or 17-18. I would never say out of 12. I can't believe it happened."
Rohbock said "you can speculate so many different things" that caused the crash "but obviously I want to say things that make me feel better."
Bottom line, Rohbock felt the potential to go faster than ever before and anxiously awaited heading to Europe for the second half of the World Cup schedule.
After winning the season-opening World Cup silver medal at Whistler, B.C., Canada, and getting canceled by a blizzard Dec. 10, in Park City, Utah, Rohbock and Fleming had two races in Lake Placid.
"I took second in the first race and we were probably going to end up second in the second race, but I ended up crashing," Rohbock said. "So I would have three seconds and one first."
Rohbock struggled with a quadriceps injury to finish eighth at Calgary, the other stop on the 2010-2011 World Cup circuit. She has three World Cup events remaining, followed by the World Championships on Feb. 18-19, in Konigssee, Germany.
"The problem is my body is just so hammered right now," Rohbock said. "After the Vancouver Olympics, I almost retired. Actually, I was pretty much retired over the summer. Valerie and I both live in Park City and we went for a walk one night and I was like, 'Let's just retire.' And she said, 'OK, good, I'm there with you. That's fine with me.'"
The next day their coach called and talked them into returning for another season.
"I knew I was going to struggle a little bit this year with the push because I'm just done. My body needs the time out," Rohbock said. "I wish that I could come back next year because the World Championships are going to be in Lake Placid, and obviously the sled that I'm in is ridiculously fast in Lake Placid. It's fast everywhere, but it's extra fast in Lake Placid, so I would love to come back.
"But I just can't. It's frustrating for me and frustrating for my brakeman. Valerie and I have raced for seven or eight seasons and she's been an awesome brakeman over the years. I've had my ups and downs since 2006 with injuries and she's pushed me right along and done a great job."
Rohbock says very little would have happened with her bobsledding career without the support of WCAP and the Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program. She served as a forerunner at the 2002 Olympics in Park City as a member of WCAP. A forerunner is a non-competing athlete who drives down the bobsled track prior to competitors to ensure the surface is ready.
Rohbock was released from WCAP in 2003 because her unit was preparing to deploy. At the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, she teamed with Fleming to win a silver medal while representing the Army National Guard. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Rohbock teamed with Michelle Rzepka and finished sixth at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
"I feel like the military programs are why you end up winning medals," Rohbock said. "Everybody wants to support you in your Olympic year. In your offseason, that's when nobody cares. WCAP carries you whether it's an Olympic year or non-Olympic year - they're there supporting you. At Torino, I have to say WCAP was a big part of that medal as well because without them I wouldn't have been able to be a brakeman and start my driving career and then move into this other program.
"The military programs have probably been the biggest part of my success. Without them, I don't feel like I would have been able to win any medals."
Fleming is happy just to share a sled with Rohbock.
"I've been feeling great," said Fleming, 34. "It's been a never-ending string of injuries for Shauna over the last five to six years, which I know is frustrating for her. I always want to do better. I have all the confidence in the world in Shauna. Her driving ability is awesome, and she can make up time that we might be losing at the start."
Rohbock could be the kind of athlete who gives her body a break while coaching for a season or two, then jumps back into a sled to prepare for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
"It's definitely possible," she said. "If people ask: 'Are you going to go to Sochi'' Well, today, I say 'no.' But obviously I've seen [then WCAP Spc.] Jill Bakken, who won gold in Salt Lake and said 'I'm done,' then she came back for Torino. Todd Hays hung it up after Torino for two years, then came back [and made a run] for Whistler. There have been so many athletes who have done it: took a couple years off and then came back.
"I said in Park City that I was retiring," Rohbock added. "You never know, but I do want to coach as well."
At any rate, Rohbock has a coaching career to keep her near the track. For now, her primary goal is to remain healthy through the World Championships.
"I feel like every day I'm fighting with my body," she said. "This week I was pushing and my quad just got kind of tight. I didn't take a couple of the last training runs and had to get worked on. Next week, maybe I'm going to be a little bit smarter. Maybe I'll train one day, take a day off, train one day, take a day off, and then race.
"I just feel like I'm constantly fighting and it's so frustrating because I was such a durable athlete through my college years. Ever since 2006 when I got a bigger injury, then I never took time off, which was probably a mistake."
Speaking of durability, Rohbock actually played two seasons of professional soccer for the WUSA's San Diego Spirit while bobsledding during the winters.
"I've been a little rough on my body, and I'm dreading 40. That's the problem," she said with a laugh. "I think maybe when I'm done, my body will go: 'Ah, finally,' and then it will go back to normal."
Once all is said and done, Rohbock hopes to be remembered as one of the best athletes in the history of USA Bobsledding.
"Of course, I'd like to be remembered as the best female driver of all times," she said with a smile. "When I came into the sport we broke every start record on every track, so I'd like to think that I revolutionized the sport for the drivers to become more athletic. Now it's kind of like the process - a brakeman becomes a driver.
"I'd like to think I was a pioneer of the sport."