"Track clear. Track clear.” The call sounded tinny through the speaker overhead. I swallowed hard, leaned back and tightened my grip on the 30-pound steel sled.
“I think you’d better push me,” I told Olivia, my luge coach. “I’m a little nervous.”
“You’ll be fine!” she chirped, using the full weight of her body to shove me down the frozen run.
Luge track in Muskegon, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Riversedge.
When the mercury drops, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex comes to life. Located 200 miles up the Lake Michigan shore from Chicago in Michigan’s Muskegon State Park, the complex features a 9.5-mile lighted cross-country ski trail (the Midwest’s longest) and a lighted quarter-mile skating path that meanders through white pine forest. Families glide across skating rinks; kids smack pucks into hockey nets.
Scenic route more your speed? Try the skating path. Photo courtesy of MWSC/Blink Photo.
But it’s Muskegon’s luge track, one of only four in the nation, that sets the sports complex apart. Anyone 8 and up can take a run on the 850-foot ice-covered track, which was designed in 1984 by three-time Olympian Frank Masley and helped launch Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette. Jake Hyrns, who has trained on this track, hopes to join Team USA at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. For $49, you get a 2½-hour session including instruction, gear and up to six runs if you hustle.
So, having nothing more in common with those luge greats than my Michigan roots, I found myself hurtling down Frank’s Bank and jolting left and right at Shady and Ping curves, practically bending the sled’s rails with my grip. Overhead, the snow-covered fir trees blurred into a green-and-white smear as the sled picked up speed.
At Furnace Straightaway, my boot lost its purchase, and with it, my main steering mechanism was gone. Just hang on, I told myself, willing the boot back into position before my sled whipped around another bend, riding high on the wooden embankments as it shot through Verizon Curve.
A pile of foam rubber at the finish line brought me to a skidding halt. Olympic sliders typically clock top speeds around 85 mph. I had peaked at 30—but it was fast enough. Heart pumping, I peeled my fingers from the sled rails.
“You OK?” two college-age spotters asked.
“Yeah,” I said as I scrambled off the track, aware that other sleds would follow mine. “Yeah. Wow.”
“Ready to go again?” one of them asked. But I was already hoisting the hefty sled over my shoulder and starting back up the stairs (msports.org).