Bobsled driver Jazmine Fenlator takes unlikely path to Sochi
Jazmine Fenlator grew up watching the movie “Cool Runnings,” but the Olympic bobsledder never thought she’d end up just like the main characters in the 1993 Disney film.
Fenlator, 28, always wanted to be in the Olympics, but when she was a kid, she thought she would dance her way into the games one day. “I grew up as a dancer,” she explained. “I told my mom I was going to be a Broadway star one day and because I loved the Olympic Games, I said I’d make modern dance part of the Olympics.” Fenlator, who grew up in Wayne, N.J., even auditioned for “The Lion King” on Broadway.
She stuck with her Olympic dreams, but changed her focus to track when she was in high school and college. Fenlator was a star thrower for Rider University when her college coach gave her the idea to switch to bobsledding. “I brushed him off at first but he filled out an athletic resume for me and sent it in to the U.S.A. Bobsled Federation,” she said.
The Federation invited her to a tryout in 2007 — by then, Fenlator already knew she was unlikely to qualify for the Olympic trials as a thrower for the Beijing games. “When the opportunity came to try out for bobsled, I thought, ‘How cool is it that a national team sport wants you to try out for them? I might as well take that opportunity and see where it goes.’”
Fenlator said her explosiveness, strength and short distance speed showed her potential during athletic tests for the team. Just three weeks later, she was competing in team trial events and learning to be a brakeman. She said her first year was jammed with training. “I had just turned 22 and all I’d known for the last eight years was track and field,” she said. “I had a lot of room for improvement for growing and training my body and I wanted to soak up as much as I could.”
As she prepared for the Vancouver Olympics, Fenlator learned how to drive a bobsled and fell in love. Though she did not qualify for Vancouver, her switch to pilot has been a success: Fenlator has earned three World Cup medals over the last two seasons.
Fenlator will be sharing her sled with two-time Olympian Lolo Jones. “Lolo brings great work ethic, and she can handle being in the spotlight, winning and breaking records and barriers,” said Fenlator. “The knowledge she has as being a professional athlete for 13 years is something we really embrace as a young team.” Fenlator said Jones has showed her the ropes in terms of what it’s like to be at the Olympics; in turn, Fenlator has showed her — you guessed it — “Cool Runnings.”
“I definitely forced her to watch ‘Cool Runnings’ last year,” laughed Fenlator. “I said, ‘It is mandatory for you to watch this movie and appreciate the sport and comedic values.’” Fenlator said when they’re not working 12-hour days training, she and Jones like to decompress by watching movies and goofing around. “It’s fun to be messy and laugh and joke and tease each other,” she said. “We call ourselves ‘The Wolfpack’ as a team.”
Though Fenlator has accomplished her goal of getting to the Olympics, she had one major corner to turn in 2011 when Hurricane Irene ravaged her family’s home, destroying the structure of the house in addition to family keepsakes and mementos. The damage to the home left her mother homeless for 12 weeks. “I thought about putting my dreams on hold,” she said. “I thought it was important for me to go home and go back to my corporate job to help my mom pay off some debt and mortgage but my mom wasn’t having it.” Fenlator said her mother, who was in poor health at the time, insisted that it would be more stressful if she did not continue training. She returned to the Olympic training center in Lake Placid and sent home money from odd jobs like babysitting and freelance graphic designing.
Even now, Fenlator’s family members are not quite on their feet. Her mother’s health problems have left her unable to work. “It’s hard but I look at my different teammates and people all around the world who deal with tragedy on a day-to-day basis and I don’t dwell on it,” she said. “In my family, we don’t say, ‘Oh, poor me.’ We figure it out.”
Fenlator said it is this attitude that propels her as she prepares for the Olympics. “I use that motivation from my mom and grandparents; that’s the work ethic I grew up with,” she said.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark